Former RCMP officers weigh in on N.S. Mass Casualty Commission testimony
As a former undercover RCMP officer and depot instructor, Calvin Lawrence has a blunt assessment of the RCMP response to Nova Scotia’s April 2020 massacre.
“Any police officer should know, we may have mass incidents,” he says in an interview from Kingston, ON.
“What has struck me is the non-preparedness of the RCMP in the province in relation to mass incidents, especially after Mayerthorpe, and after Moncton.”
At the Mass Casualty Commission this week, former staff sergeants in charge at the time described not having key information about Gabriel Wortman’s replica police cruiser or his escape route out of Portapique until it was too late to stop more murders.
Lawrence says much of what he heard comes down to one thing.
“False assumptions,” says Lawrence. “False assumptions with his vehicle; false assumptions that when the police were called over the years that nothing was going to happen; false assumptions that he killed himself.”
Lawrence says lack of knowledge about a call and “relaxing too soon,” also stand out to him when looking at what happened.
“There is a start where there’s confusion,” says Lawrence. “But the better prepared you are, the more quickly you can respond to these mass incidents, and they’re going to happen, and they’re going to happen again.”
Inquiry documents outline how the description of the gunman's vehicle changed as it passed through police lines of communication — from the fully “decked and labeled” police car described in the first 911 call by Jamie Blair — to an "old white police car” as written in the RCMP’s first BOLO (Be On the Lookout) issued to police throughout the province at 1:07 a.m. that Sunday morning.
“Some of those things are basic tenets that need to be followed through,” says CTV public safety analyst Chris Lewis, who’s also a former head of the Ontario Provincial Police.
While Lewis says he recognizes that the tragedy was unprecedented, he says any mistakes must be diagnosed and fixed for the future.
“And I’m certainly not afraid to say in their defense that this was the biggest, in number of deaths, injuries, crime scenes, that anyone’s ever faced in policing in Canada,” he adds. “But people need to know who’s in charge, who needs to know what, and to make sure those things get communicated.”
“In the middle of an operation, a key piece of information that gets missed, that can lead to injury and death and really hurts public and officer safety,” says Lewis.
“No one could have ever been prepared for the scenario that unfolded,” says Steve Mills, a 31-year veteran of the RCMP who served with the force’s Special Emergency Response Team (a precursor to ERT) and as a critical incident commander.
Mills says some of the issues brought up in officer testimony this week are familiar based on his experience.
“There are always challenges,” he says. “I started in 1977 and there was radio communication problems back then, there’s radio communication problems now.”
“It’s technology, just when you need it, it fails, that’s just the way technology goes sometimes. And we probably have one of the best radio systems in North America and there are still problems.”
He says lessons have already been learned by the Nova Scotia RCMP, which made all emergency response team members (ERT) full-time after the tragedy to beef up resources.
“That’s something that’s been talked about for 30 years or more,” says Mills. “The ERT team has come light years from when I was there, the equipment, the training, it’s amazing.”
The RCMP also added the ATAK GPS mapping and tracking for ERT, police dog, tactical and medical support members, although Mills says that would be a “great” tool for all the boots on the ground.
“But it's money, it's funding, that has to be put in place before any of that equipment can be purchased,” he adds.
The caption of the image on this story originally named “Sean McLeod” as “Sean McLean”. The caption has since been corrected.
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