New CBC Radio special goes inside Toronto Police Operations Centre

CBC Toronto was able to get inside the Toronto Police Operations Centre as part of a new CBC Radio special examining police communications. Enforcing the Message airs Monday on CBC Radio One.

Enforcing the Message, airing Monday, explores the changing ways police are communicating with the public

The Toronto Police Operations Centre. The CBC Radio special Enforcing the Message airs May 22 at 5 p.m. on CBC Radio One. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

The shades are drawn so in the darkened room you can clearly make out the satellite image of downtown Toronto on the large projection screen.

The aerial view of the city has different coloured markings and numbers on it. Before I take a photo of the room, an officer changes what's being displayed on the screen.

There's a lot of information flowing through this office and some of it is sensitive.

CBC Toronto was able to get into the Toronto Police Operations Centre as part of a new CBC Radio special examining police communications.

Enforcing the Message airs Monday May 22 at 5 p.m. on CBC Radio One. 

The Toronto Police Operations Centre (TPOC) occupies a large room on an upper floor of Toronto Police Headquarters.

Five officers monitor all of the police activity happening in the city, as well as Toronto Fire, paramedics, TTC and other City of Toronto departments.

In 2016, a media officer was added to TPOC to pass some of the information in this room on to the public.

"I'm interested in anything that really affects most people in the city," Constable Caroline de Kloet, one of the media officers routinely assigned to TPOC, says in Enforcing the Message.

An example of a tweet from the Toronto Police Operation Centre. (Twitter)

Using social media and primarily Twitter (the TPOC account has more than 53,000 followers), de Kloet and other media officers will send out details of road closures, public safety hazards, missing people or crime such as gunfire.

"I always want to get the most accurate and most up-to-date information out. People are on social media and it's a great way get information across."

Having an officer regularly tweeting from inside TPOC has helped the media. But it came around the same time newsrooms and reporters in the field lost an important tool used to track police activity.

In 2015, Toronto joined other police services in encrypting its radio system.

Prior to this, journalists, or anyone else with a radio scanner, could monitor police calls. Toronto Police say the move was made out of concern for privacy and officer safety.

Chief Mark Saunders is seen addressing members of the media. In the CBC Radio special Enforcing the Message, Saunders says police communications is changing quickly and looks nothing like it did when he began his career. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Tony Smyth, a CBC Toronto video producer who has worked the overnight shift for decades, says not being able to follow police radio calls has made his job a lot more difficult.

"Nowadays, every police department has encrypted. And that kind of leaves us at their mercy as to what we're going to find out about," Smyth says in Enforcing the Message.

The media can still learn of Toronto Police activity through the radio calls of Toronto Fire and paramedics. A process Smyth says is like putting together a "jigsaw puzzle."

Smyth says he relies heavily on the TPOC Twitter account, but the information is not nearly as informative or immediate as the radio calls were.

Sometimes news of an incident emerges at a later date, but there was no tweet.

"Sometimes we need to hold back certain information," de Kloet says.

Encrypted radios and TPOC Twitter are just part of the new reality in police communications. There's much more explored on Enforcing the Message.

About the Author

Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español.