The Voice of the OPP
written by JORDANA STIER
OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley, heads west on Hwy. 401 with his hands on the wheel and his aviator sunglasses on the dash.
“Understanding the weather is really important to the police,” says Woolley, who has become the media go-to guy.
He says this winter’s “record snowfall,” wasn’t good for Toronto. Toronto drivers, he says, are famously bad in winter weather. “In OPP circles ‘Toronto’ and ‘driver’ in the same sentence is not a compliment. A Toronto driver is usually somebody that’s going too fast for conditions.”
And when the snow falls, it’s just another busy day on the job.
“We start talking about the snow before it happens. And when the storm’s rolling we do a play by play on what crashes there are, what’s the most common cause of the crashes, and if there’s issues the officers have in the field,” he explains, while cruising at the speed limit.
“We were doing stuff with CP24. The Vice President of news Bob McLaughlin told me that they had nearly two million viewers which is double what anyone else’s newscasts get during the storm coverage. We see a huge value in that.”
The winter was one white blur for Woolley. His worst memory: looking for a driver’s license in someone’s pocket and finding that their torso was separated from the rest of the body.
Woolley says people don’t realize how dangerous driving in the winter really is. “The last storm [on March 8] got so bad the plows came off the road and the police and tow trucks wouldn’t answer calls anymore.”
Woolley says there’s more to his job than just looking out his cruiser window. During a snowstorm, he is in constant contact with radio stations such as 640, 680 and CFRB.
“As you know with advertising you can’t do it just once, you have to have the message constantly rolling and the media won’t do it unless we make it interesting and catchy. So that’s sort of my skill.” Nicknamed director of photography, Woolley knows what’s visual and occasionally even directs the cameraman where to shoot.
Woolley seems to be a man born for the job. Although he’s been a police officer for almost 30 years, Woolley didn’t always know what he wanted to do. Born and raised in Toronto, he took film arts at Upper Canada College. He then went to York University and majored in Radio and Television Arts, but didn’t graduate. Eventually, “on a summer job at Ontario Place I met some OPP officers and they were really interesting,” he says.
For Woolley, the key factor in being both an OPP officer and a media spokesperson is to be available 24/7. “My wife and I don’t have kids and it’s something she’s prepared to accept.” His cell phone, pagers and blackberry are always on.
Tony Bitonti, senior producer of news at CP24 dealt with Woolley a lot when he was stationed at A-Channel in Barrie. “Cam is wonderful. Always accessible and always great for comments, every time there was an accident on the 400 we used to talk constantly,” he says.
Global TV’s Inga Belge also deals with Woolley often and she says he has done a lot for getting the message out about traffic and driving safety. “He’s helpful and informative. He gets how the media work and our time lines, that we need stuff right away not tomorrow. He understands visual components of TV news, that we can’t just tell people things. We have to show them.”
Helping cut through a lot of red tape, Woolley “can give us answers we need or get us people who can provide answers faster,” Belge says.
Woolley has seen a lot, from the 1979 train derailment in Mississauga to the Quebec ice storm in January 1998. He’s been in the advance car in front of icons such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. “I usually shoot ahead and make sure there aren’t any problems, and if there are I make them go away real fast,” he says. “I’m in my separate police car ahead, if you see the Pope driving along in the Popemobile.”
There’s more to Woolley than being the highly visible OPP media guy. He owns a business that rents “cars to the TV and film industry. Renting primarily ambulances, but also luxury cars,” he says. However, Woolley doesn’t give out his company name. He says it’s a conflict of interest. “I don’t want to be seen using my OPP position or profile to make money.”
Cam Woolley considers himself prepared for anything, and his home is proof of that. “My house is 10 acres. It’s got what I call the ‘man house’. It’s 2,600 square feet. There are toys in there. Anything from armoured cars, to machine guns...I have a full shop. At home I have Porches, Rolls, Mercedes, Land Rovers, military vehicles, at least 16 ambulances.”
So how does he afford all this on a cop’s salary? Woolley is on the “Sunshine” list, a group of public service employees who earn more than $100,000 a year. Also he and his wife are DINKS – double-income-no-kids. Combined with the money he earns from his film business, he says he can afford all these things and more.
Calling himself a “Safety Sam,” Woolley has extra fuel, generators, food and water. “If there’s a major power outage, there won’t be gas at the gas station for a while, almost none of them have generators, and by the time you get them there’s a line up.”
Although Woolley has seen his fair share of disasters, he says the one thing he’s learned is that you never see it all. “Almost every day I get surprised by something. Either by some things that humans do, or some situations,” he says. Some of the foolish and dangerous things Woolley has seen are people in the passing lane trying to pull a car stalled off the highway on foot with a rope.
One of the weirdest was a man who let his seven-year-old daughter steer his tractor-trailer on his lap, standing up, without a seat belt. “I don’t ever want to say I’ve seen it all because there’s something every day I sure as hell haven’t seen,” Woolley says.
“I have learned from the misfortunes of others and that’s one of the things we’re always trying to do, and that’s one of my missions in life, trying to help other people learn from the mistakes of others. Not everybody seems open to that. Humans tend to repeat history, that’s why I have my stock.”