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Jeff's Jots: What do police mean by 'no foul play suspected'

No foul play is suspected
20210304 Police tape RV
Police tape. Richard Vivian/GuelphToday file photo

A story we ran recently about a death in a local township drew plenty of attention in the comments section of our Facebook page.

It concerned a domestic dispute where one partner was hospitalized and the other died. Police, in their release, used the sentence "No foul play is suspected."

Before we go further, here's the original, release, edited for location only.

OPP REQUEST PUBLIC TO SHELTER IN PLACE OF SAFETY

Shelter In Place Ends-Barricaded Person

A barricaded person incident has ended. One person is being treated at hospital for non-life threatening injuries and a 48 year-old person is deceased. No foul play is suspected.

Members from the North Bay Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) responded to a domestic dispute in the early morning hours, at approximately 02:30 a.m. A shelter in place of safety advisory was implemented.

Assisting with this occurrence were Crime Unit members from the North Bay OPP Detachment, an OPP Emergency Response Team, an OPP Tactics and Rescue Team, an OPP Canine Unit, OPP Negotiators, an OPP Remotely Piloted Aerial System and an OPP Critical Incident Commander.

The identity of the deceased will not be released in order to protect the identity of the victim. This investigation is continuing.

- 30 -

A heated discussion in the comments section centred around that one key phrase.

"No foul play but someone is deceased? Name won't be released to protect VICTIM....in what world is one person a victim and the other dies not considered foul?"

And another.

"self harm is not foul play …The original assault did not result in death, or that would have been foul play, foul play implies murder, no one was murdered, so no foul play"

And,

"It is one definition of foul play for sure, but foul play doesn't strictly imply murder. Assault is also foul play."

There was also speculation by commenters that police had actually shot and killed the person and were covering it up.

So I want to set that story aside because I don't know exactly what happened and I want to deal with the topic in generalities.

The Cambridge Dictionary describes foul play as "a criminal act that results in serious damage or injury, especially murder."

Since it is often a phrase used by police and was an OPP release I asked Sergeant Carlo Berardi of the North Bay Detachment what is meant by "Foul play not suspected.”

"There are times when police issue news releases as a result of responding to a call for service and include the phrase, “Foul play not suspected” when someone has died," he explained.

"What this means generally is that the initial investigation indicates that the person that died did not die as a result of the criminal actions of another person, i.e.) another person did not murder/kill the person that has died."

Another line that often appears in police news releases is, "There is no threat to public safety."

It often means that the perp has committed suicide, but police don't like to use that word so it's couched in softer terms.

Another line that draws the ire of readers is "The identity of the deceased will not be released in order to protect the identity of the victim."

This means the perp is probably the spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/relative of the person they attacked. Victims usually don't want their name made public and have to be traumatized all over again, so a number of years ago police stopped including anything that might identify the victim.

It's a double-edged sword. Not identifying the attacker also means the public can't take measures to protect themselves when they don't have the facts.

I personally agree with protecting the victim, but I think the police use that too broadly.

So you have to learn to read between the lines.




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Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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