It appears OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino has no sense of humour.
According to recent reports in Toronto-area media, Fantino is reining in the affable Sgt. Cam Woolley – the longstanding face of the OPP in the media and a frequent source in Truck News articles. In a letter to citizens, Fantino said the OPP is taking a new approach to enforcing highway safety: “No more long weekend blitzes, no flavour-of-the-day enforcement, no more humorous stories about those who compromise public safety. Rather, every day, 24-7, OPP officers will be deployed in an all-out effort to put an end to the senseless carnage.”
I, for one, will miss Woolley’s colourful anecdotes from the road.
I would tune into local TV reports following each long weekend enforcement blitz, anxious to hear about the guy that was pulled over for shaving while talking on his cell phone and eating a bowl of cereal all while travelling 180 km/h on the 401.
I know I’m not the only one who enjoyed this guilty pleasure.
Fantino said the change in direction doesn’t specifically target Woolley (who will now spend more time enforcing the laws and less time talking to the media). However, I think Fantino’s no-nonsense approach will backfire for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Woolley’s amusing reports on safety blitzes brought the issue of highway safety to the forefront.
People who otherwise would have little interest in reading a newspaper article citing boring statistics about the latest enforcement blitz would tune in to hear Woolley talk about the worst of the worst offenders. His entertaining first-hand reports helped spread the message of road safety to a wider audience.
Secondly, trying to get a straightforward response from the police on any issue can be a daunting task. I know this from my experience as a newspaper reporter and also working for Truck News. Woolley, however, could always be depended on for a BS-free response and he’s one of the few law enforcement officers who always promptly returns phone calls from the media.
Finally, what’s wrong with having a quasi-celebrity of sorts out there representing the OPP? Police officers in general are too often perceived as the ‘bad guys.’ Woolley is instantly recognizable in Ontario and love him or hate him, he puts a face to the OPP. Having dealt with Sgt. Woolley personally, I have gained a better appreciation for the work he and his fellow officers do on a daily basis.
Perhaps Fantino doesn’t like the fact one of his subordinates gets his name in the paper more often than the Big Chief. Whatever the reason, it’s disappointing that the OPP has chosen to forge a new path down the public relations trail. I guess those of us in Ontario will have to get used to settling for the same ol’ boring police rhetoric most other jurisdictions are accustomed to.