Saint John Police could be doing more to alleviate public fear about the suspicious death of a patient at the Saint John Regional Hospital last week, says a criminologist.
The police have only confirmed that they were called to the hospital at 12:20 a.m. on Wednesday and that a female patient died under suspicious circumstances.
They have not released any information about the cause of death and no one has been arrested in connection with the death.
The police have a responsibility to keep the public informed, said Michael Boudreau, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at St. Thomas University.
"The longer the police say nothing, then the problem becomes more speculation starts to spread, especially throughout social media," he said
"What the police perhaps could be doing is more updates on a regular basis – even if it’s a matter of just saying ‘There’s nothing more to report’ because that on one level at least does provide a bit of reassurance for the public."
Still, police face a difficult balance between keeping the public informed, and respecting the wishes of the family, said Boudreau.
"This is a public space, arguably the largest hospital in the province and so people rightly have questions," he said.
"But the police also have to be careful because if they begin to speculate without proper knowledge of the case, then they put the family of the victim in an unenviable position."
In addition, if police speculate about the case, they run the risk that it’s only going to "ramp up public fear and suspicion, rather than ratchet it down," especially among people who have relatives staying at the hospital, said Boudreau.
Similarly, the brief statement from the Horizon Health Network that there is no risk to patient safety and it's business as usual at the hospital, does little to ease the public's concern, he said.
"I’m sure it isn’t enough to make patients feel secure, but the heath network also has to follow the police lead because the last thing I think the police would want is for police to be saying one thing, the health authority to be saying something else. So the two have to be in lockstep.
"It’s a difficult situation for them to deal with," said Boudreau.
"Ultimately sometimes less is more, but I think you’re right, it’s probably doing very little to calm public fear."
The major crime unit continues to investigate. The Horizon Health Network is conducting its own review and is co-operating with the police investigation.
The victim's name will not be released at the family's request.