RCMP blows pipeline-bomb investigation by Paul Joosse, December 15, 2008, Calgary Herald
Last week, the RCMP, represented by Tim Sheilds and flanked by a spokesperson from EnCana Corp., let the public have a glimpse into its investigations of the recent pipeline bombings near Dawson Creek.
The Mounties even took, in their words, “the very unusual step” of setting up a publicly accessible website dedicated solely to the investigations (www.dawsoncreekbombings.com).
[something doesn’t smell right …]
On the site — an obvious point of pride for the force –one can view surveillance photos, photos of the blast sites, a copy of a threat letter and a statement from EnCana.
The strategy is to elicit tips from the public about the bombings and the RCMP rightly presumes the most valuable information will come from family members or close friends of the bomber–people who already may harbour suspicions but, for whatever reason (solidarity, denial, fear), may be reluctant to speak up.
Appealing for information, Sheilds noted the perpetrator(s) may “have talked about those grievances to someone, possibly advocating or threatening violent action.”
So far, so good.
All evidence does indeed point to the fact that we probably are dealing with a local resident who may enjoy some communal sympathy for his or her grievances — if not his or her tactics.
But when one looks at a nuts-and-bolts level at the channels available to those with tips, it is clear the police could have done much better.
People who give tips that cast suspicion on friends or loved ones often go through an agonizing decision-making process before they become willing to speak up.
For this reason, the tip-giving channels need to be hassle-free.
Any impediments to the process, such as dialing a wrong number or waiting on hold on the phone, increase the likelihood of engendering second thoughts or cold feet on the part of the tipper.
I went through the processes the new website encourages–partly to imagine myself in the role of a resident with germane information, partly to offer my advice, partly to request information from the police. This is what I found:
1) The CrimeStoppers phone line recited by Sheilds and reproduced in the original written news release (1-800-822-TIPS) is incorrect (the real CrimeStoppers number is 1-800-‘TWO’ 22-TIPS). This mistake was corrected in the written statement more than a day and a half after I notified them, while the video of Sheilds reciting the wrong number is still online as I write.
2) The tip-line specifically dedicated to the pipeline bombing investigation (1-866-994-7473) leads to a long machine message, not to a person.
3) The tip-submission webpage is very slow to process submitted information.
4) My calls to the RCMP expressing these concerns were not returned.
A fifth point will take more explanation.
Along with the written statement, the RCMP released a photo of the threatening letter sent on Oct. 7 to Coffee Talk Express, a newsletter that serves the area.
However, the pdf image had already been released to media in October. As such, it is not very useful for gleaning new information.
There were two other letters– sent to EnCana and the Dawson Creek Daily News–and it is surprising the RCMP has refused to release.
There would be great value in releasing them. To start, we might remember that the capture of Ted Kaczynski — the Unabomber –was precipitated by the New York Times’s decision to publish his “manifesto.”
It was a controversial decision that ultimately proved very valuable, in that Kaczynski’s brother, Dan, recognized in the letter some very familiar language and decided to alert authorities.
He had suspicions prior to the publication, but he became more certain after he read the document in its entirety.
This type of confirmatory process is less likely to happen if the RCMP continues its strategy of releasing only partial information.
No one can know ahead of time what the “Eureka” clue will be–perhaps some phraseology, perhaps an idiosyncratic spelling, perhaps the way the letter writer crossed his or her Ts.
Suffice to say that for the five reasons above it is reasonable the public should expect a revision of the RCMP’s web-related investigative efforts.
Now, the reply from the RCMP might be that they are understaffed and under-re-sourced, and that we therefore shouldn’t have such high expectations.
Canadian’s often use telephones, however, and know that it only takes a “staff” of one to correctly reproduce a telephone number. [oh keeeyiaya, too funny]
In the Q and A period of the news conference, Sheilds asserted, “Every tip that has come in has been followed up very quickly.”
Although this wasn’t my experience, generally this may be true. [howling laughter … ha!]
However, it is the prospect of tips actually reaching authorities’ ears that is an area of concern.
And here’s what Encana workers think of the public and our media on such serious sour gas matters:
Encana workers give press the finger, November 01, 2008