Covering crime and the Toronto Police

CBC Radio’s host of The World This Weekend and investigative reporter Dave Seglins chatted with the journalism students at the joint UTSC/Centennial College Intro to News Reporting class today about how “a tap on the shoulder” from a colleague led him from covering the crime beat to  becoming one of the country’s most successful reporters on policing policy issues (about how police do their jobs), but also, eventually, to how top brass tried to cover up corruption in Canada’s largest metropolitan police force.

by Gesilayefa Azorbo

            When Dave Seglins spoke to a class of third year Centennial journalism students, it was more than a typical guest lecture. His request that the students not use tape recorders was unexpected, but not remarkable.  What was unusual, however, was when he asked students to stop taking notes about halfway through the class. It was because he was about to discuss sensitive material related to an ongoing investigative story about corrupt police officers, and it underlined how seriously investigative journalists like Seglins guard the information that is their stock-in-trade.

            The CBC Radio reporter visited Centennial College’s HP Science and Technology Centre Tuesday to deliver a talk on covering crime and the police beat.

            His main talking points were on covering the crimes themselves, reporting on police procedure, and investigating the institution of the police.

 Keeping information confidential ,according to Seglins, has helped him uncover stories about corruption in Canada’s biggest police force.

            “Well, how are police using their powers?” he asked, standing in front of the classroom. He was referring to the need to examine police procedures to ensure that they remain transparent. Society appoints the police to serve us, he said, not the other way round.

            “It gets to the core of accountability. If police officers are eroding our rights, we should do stories about that,” Seglins said.  

            Seglins is well known for forcing police accountability.  In 2004, he received a Silver Medal from the New York Festivals for a CBC investigative story looking into corruption and illegal drug use within the Toronto Police drug squad.

           He hasn’t always covered cops and policy, however. Seglins started out covering the crime beat.

             He advised students to build up relationships with the police, and get to know cops and the PR spokespeople. This kind of preparation, he said, could lead to tips ahead of time on things like police raids, and sources that trust you enough to let you know when things go “a little bit off” within the police force.

            He moved on to covering policy issues when it began to feel like he was the police public relations spokesperson.

            “In much of crime reporting we are at the mercy of the police,” he said. “What they tell us is what we get.” 

            Covering the inner workings of the police force is not easy, however, as Seglins notes that most police officers will be very reluctant to speak with reporters. He ascribes this to what he calls the “militaristic tradition” of the police, which he says puts them under “no-speak” orders.

            “So few police officers are willing to go on the record that you’ve got to go with what you’ve got,” he said with a shrug. To get around this, he suggests that student journalists do more research through the website for the Toronto Police Services Board, a civilian organization appointed as overseers of the Toronto Police. He also indicates the Special Investigations Unit website as a source for great stories, as it provides information on investigations against officers themselves.

            “Everywhere, someone commits a crime,” he said, gesturing expansively with his hands. “But when cops do it, it is particularly galling. It perverts the course of justice.” 




Dave Seglins visits Centennial College Journalism's joint program with U of T
Dave Seglins visits Centennial College Journalism