After four and a half years as the face of the Vancouver Police Department, Sergeant Brian Montague will be transitioning from expert media liaison to the Collision Investigation Unit at the end of the year.
Montague, with 37 years of VPD service under his belt, has built a strong relationship with news media outlets in order to cultivate a sense of balance between the two agencies. A successful result of this is his working relationship with News 1130 reporter Sonia Aslam. The pair, both graduates of Langara College, have developed a mutually beneficial connection rooted in respect and understanding.
A roomful of Langara journalism students gathered on Thursday, Oct. 20, to hear Montague and Aslam discuss the importance of establishing respectful barriers between their two very different professions.
Aslam stressed the value of communication with the VPD to avoid distrust and to preserve professional integrity on both sides.
“It is completely unfair and it is unethical as a reporter, as a journalist, to tell a one-sided story and to expect that it’s not going to cause problems,” she said.
Montague believes it is important to achieve balance and perspective in a story. Accuracy, for him, is everything.
“It’s my job to manage the reputation of the VPD, to speak when it’s in our interest to speak,” he said. “I want to make sure the numbers you have and the story you have is accurate.”
Montague, who throughout the seminar exchanged friendly taunts with Aslam, addressed the separation between professionalism and amicability. He said that while he engages in personal conversations off the record, there is a clear shift in gears once the camera is rolling.
“I don’t take it personally, and all we ask is that you don’t take it personally,” Aslam said.
Despite the interdependent nature of the relationship between the VPD and journalists, Montague always puts public safety first, while Aslam is more concerned with public interest.
“There are rules that we have to play by, there are laws that we have to follow,” Montague said. “There are only certain situations where I can provide someone’s name or information on a case.”
These situations occur for a number of reasons, including the ongoing status of an investigation as well as the VPD’s responsibility to contact next of kin. In this case, Aslam does her research and finds another approach to the story.
Another critical factor for Montague that solidifies his responsiveness with news agencies is the desire to paint the police department in a positive light – something that he said is lacking in the mainstream media, particularly across the border in the U.S. He said that while members of his staff do great work every day, they are often painted with a broad brush.
“If a police officer makes a mistake in Kansas City, we wear it,” he said. “Do police officers make mistakes? Absolutely. Do they make mistakes in Vancouver? Absolutely. [But] please don’t vilify one of our officers for something that’s happened [elsewhere].”
While he found the transition to media spokesperson challenging four years ago, the sergeant is now passing on his expertise and awareness to Constable Jason Doucette, who will be filling the position in December.
Doucette is looking forward to representing the 1400 members in the department and hopes to further maintain and establish positive relations with journalists like Sonia Aslam.