The Editor’s Desk: There’s no right to know

Think you have a right to know all about the recent police manhunt? Think again

When I was younger my father — a retired Mountie — said that the two best TV depictions of what it was actually like to be a police officer were Hill Street Blues and Barney Miller: the former because it was a realistic picture of what it was like to be a police officer, the latter because it accurately showed the camaraderie of the police force.

I haven’t watched many police shows since those days, so have largely missed the Law and Order franchise, the various iterations of CSI, the many “cold case” series out there, and all but one or two of the British police shows that regularly turn up on PBS. Just because I don’t watch them, however, doesn’t mean I don’t know of them, and a criticism I have heard levelled at many of these shows — particularly anything dealing with forensics — is the unrealistic expectations they give people of how, and how fast, things work in the real world.

At the height of what seemed to be an epidemic of severed feet washing up on the shores of the Salish Sea, a weary police officer appeared on the TV news, and was asked why it was taking so long to identify the victims. “Because this isn’t a TV show and it takes us longer than 45 minutes plus ads,” was her somewhat exasperated response. Something in the way she said it made me suspect that this wasn’t the first time she had been asked that question, and she was no more fond of it than she had been the first time. I’ve also heard lawyers and judges express concern about unrealistic expectations of jurors in court cases when it comes to things like DNA evidence.

Which brings me to the current hit TV show playing out before an enthralled audience. You know the one: it’s about a gripping countrywide manhunt for two teens suspected of randomly killing three people and then going on the run, leading law enforcement officials on a desperate chase. In last week’s episode two bodies were found in the vicinity of where the teens were last seen, and in this week’s episode police confirmed that the deceased were indeed the wanted men.

However, there is a sense that viewers are getting frustrated. The writers have been criticized for the show’s leisurely pacing and lack (so far) of answers to many questions, as well as the fact that there is a gap between episodes, particularly now that producers have said that it could be several weeks before the next one is released.

Of course, I’m not talking about a TV series; I’m describing a tragic real-life event that has caused untold pain for the family and friends of the victims, as well as of the alleged murderers. But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a TV show, particularly when you read comments from viewers — sorry, people — who have not been slow to denounce what they see as a lack of information released by the RCMP, in terms of both timing and details.

“We need to know the answers!” is a common complaint. “We need to know what police know, and when they knew it! We deserve to be told! We need more updates!”

I’m sorry to break it to these people, but no: we neither need nor deserve to know. (By “we” I mean the general public; I would not be surprised to learn that the families of those concerned are privy to information that has not been released publicly.) I understand that this was a big, gripping, international-headline-making case that had people on the edge of their seats, but it’s real life, not CSI: Northern Canada, and none of us have a “right” to know any more about it than what the RCMP feel they can, and should, release at a given time.

I’m sure the answers to many of the questions people have will be answered in due course. Until then, we all need to realize we’re not entitled to facts about the case just because we’re curious. Rather than criticize the police, be thankful that they were there when needed, doing a difficult job, and were ultimately successful in ensuring that people in the areas where the killings took place and the killers ended up are able to sleep safely once more.


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