Moncton RCMP Tragedy: A Much Needed Conversation
To begin, the principals of Re-sergeance.net would like to send their condolences to the grieving families; and the wish that their deceased loved ones David Ross, Fabrice Gevaudan, and Douglas Larche will rest in peace. The same group of principals (comprised of retired and presently serving RCMP members) would like to begin a very difficult conversation. These individuals, while mourning the loss of the previously mentioned deceased members, harbour a deep concern for those who continue to wear the uniform (including Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois). In my communications with them, the principals strongly emphasized their dissatisfaction with the fact that it took 6 years to convene an inquiry into Mayerthorpe; and now 2 years on since the fatality inquiry, the government and the RCMP have not kept their pledge to properly equip members. Moreover, they are disgusted by the impotence of the Division Staff Relations Representative Program (DSRRP) (whose motto is “Members First”) in the matter. They further find it repugnant, that RCMP members are dying in the street while the Force conducts ongoing consultations with provinces and territories to decide whether patrol-carbines should be provided to every detachment. It is urged that the conversation begin before time and other events take their toll on memory and motivation; and we are all, once again, “blinded by the brand” as displayed at the funerals in Moncton.
In the run-up to, during, and after the funerals, there was much talk of the dangers of emergency service work; specifically policing. Contrary to this common perception policing and firefighting are relative light weights when it comes to those jobs at greatest risk for accident and death (see e.g. Barton, Globe and Mail 14/01/15; or any Provincial Workers Compensation Board website). Of all the dangerous jobs to be had, the logger takes top prize. And despite the danger that can come from falling trees and cutting equipment, the logger is paid very little for his work. If he is fortunate to secure a full-time position the average Canadian logger might earn $26,500 a year (FinancesOnline.com). Those that fill out the rest of the top 10 include: fisheries workers; pilots and flight engineers; roofers; structural iron and steel workers; garbage and recyclable collectors; electrical power line installers and maintainers; truck drivers and mobile sales workers (e.g. taxi drivers and pizza deliverers); farmers, ranchers, agricultural managers; and, construction workers. While some areas policed, and some police tasks, do have an element of risk involved, there are substantial reasons why policing is not among the most dangerous of jobs. When something like a Mayerthorpe or a Moncton occurs it is most often due to one or more serious errors having been committed. It is wrong-headed, naïve, and sensationalist for the Commissioner of the RCMP, to suggest a “monster” was solely to blame, had been “indiscriminatingly shooting at people”, and “…was just beyond belief in a community like Moncton” (cbc.ca/news, Leslie MacKinnon, 14/06/06). A more considered, informed, and intelligent response would have evaluated the incident using one or more of the following areas. (Please don’t consider the areas listed below as exhaustive or the brief comments under each as definitive. The exercise is designed to start the conversation).
(The comments made under this heading are in no way meant to be critical of those members killed or injured in Moncton. They are meant as food for thought and discussion). There is a difference between hiring processes and selection processes. The former are in place when an individual joins the organization, the latter are in effect when a member of the organization is selected for a specialized unit within the organization.
- Does the RCMP even have hiring and/or selection processes for all police tasks?
- If so, where do those processes fall on a continuum that runs from informal (not very rigorous) to formal (very rigorous)?
- Do the processes actually do the job they are assumed to do?
- Have the processes ever been empirically validated?
- Have the processes ever been streamlined to increase the number of successful applicants?
- Has there been a measurable difference in the quality of applicants?
In the same CBC article noted above Mr. Paulson is quoted as naively saying, “…you can’t plan for one of these monsters roving the streets in their community with this amount of firepower…”. Mr. Paulson can be reminded that, police persons may not be able to predict the next challenge to be faced, but they can be prepared for it. To be a contemporarily and well trained law enforcement member is to ensure not only personal readiness, but the response readiness of the entire (patrol) unit.
- Does RCMP training (including basic, advanced and specialized) undergo periodic content analysis to ensure it is keeping pace with the changing demands of policing?
- Do RCMP members train for a broad spectrum of situations – are they prepared for anything?
- Are RCMP members constantly exposed to training situations that require sound decisions within a limited time frame, with limited resources, and sparse information?
- Are RCMP members trained to use their judgement, decisiveness, and knowledge to respond quickly and appropriately; because the worst decision a “Mountie” could make, in the face of threat, is no decision at all?
- No one is more qualified to make a tactical decision than the “small-unit” leader in the action – is this recognized in RCMP training?
- Does RCMP training embrace a concept (e.g. “Commander’s Intent”) that ensures every first responder has a clear understanding of their chain of command’s desired objective, and is given the latitude to choose the best way to accomplish that?
- During the most routine calls, circumstances can change rapidly. When they do, have RCMP members at the tip of the spear been trained to respond independently and accordingly?
- Are those in RCMP supervisory roles selected because of their aptitudes (or skills) for supervising – or for some other reason (e.g. favouritism or seniority)?
- Does the supervisor of a particular RCMP section always have experience doing the work of that section?
- Is there a yearly, (or every two years, or three years) professional development requirement for RCMP supervisors (like a “bomb tech” has to recertify regularly)?
- Does the RCMP embrace the concept of leadership existing at all levels of the organization?
- Could any member of a “watch” step in for a fallen (or absent) leader and take decisive action to gain control of a crisis?
- In the midst of chaos and uncertainty there is no time to wait for orders to be handed down – does even the most junior RCMP member have the confidence, judgement, and authority to make critical decisions under threat?
- Do RCMP supervisors have the training, judgement, and character that their supervisees can depend on?
4. Individual Discipline
(For more on this area please refer to Calvin Lawrence’s “10 Deadly Errors” below. Once again the comments made under this area are in no way meant to be critical of the RCMP members killed at Moncton. They are simply food for thought).
Discipline, in the law enforcement universe, could be viewed as a state of order and obedience resulting from superior training. When discipline is referred to within a military, or paramilitary, context it is not referring to regulations, punishments, or a state of subservience rather it is the exact execution of orders resulting from intelligent and willing obedience rather than habit or fear.
Discipline is necessary to ensure orderly coordinated action, no matter whether the unit in question is large or small. The greatest enemy of discipline is fear. Individuals under threat must be taught to recognize and face fear. If fear is left unchecked it can turn to panic, and an individual, or unit, in panic is made vulnerable. None of us are without fear; however good discipline and high morale will allow persistence in the face of challenge.
Moreover, discipline is nothing more than the individual or group attitude that determines rapid obedience to orders or the initiation of appropriate action in the absence of them. Individual discipline is what would motivate a person to do what is required, in the manner that is required, through nothing more than strong inner conviction. Good discipline is constant and is working whether the individual is being supervised or not. Strong individual discipline is the result of good training and intelligent leadership. In the absence of discipline, neither the individual nor the unit can function.
Here are some questions based upon how a very respected military element develops individual discipline:
- Does the RCMP promote self-discipline and consistency?
- Does the RCMP strive for assertive and competent leadership throughout the entire organization?
- Does the RCMP ensure that all commissioned and non-commissioned officers practice the principles of good leadership?
- Does each officer and N.C.O. set an example?
- Is the RCMP alert to conditions conducive to breaches of discipline?
- Does it eliminate them where possible?
- Does the RCMP provide guidance and assistance but avoid micromanaging?
- Does the RCMP set consistent and high performance standards?
- Does the RCMP praise and reward those deserving promptly and properly?
- Does the RCMP resort to punitive measures only when necessary to protect the rights of individuals, the government, and the standards of the Force?
- Does the RCMP encourage innovation and support the rank and file?
Every review, study, and management report published over the last 15 years has emphasized that the RCMP is in need of transformational reform; and that this will not happen without significant funding increases. The RCMP’s tasks far outstrip its resources, and in an effort to keep up, the members in the trenches are burning out. Approximately five years ago a Senate committee, on national security and defense, concluded that the RCMP needed an additional 5,000 members to undertake the tasks that politicians keep loading on. To say nothing of the budget cutbacks suffered by the RCMP, it has been estimated that attrition appears to be trumping recruitment in this fiscally frugal climate.
- Could patrol-carbines, hard body armour, or two person cars have made a difference in Moncton?
- Is it bureaucrats in Ottawa, who know precious little about policing, that are holding the RCMP’s purse strings?
- Did RCMP members die to save money?
- Is it time for the RCMP to become a separate (from the government) status employer?
- Is Mr. Paulson showing leadership on this issue?
- Could an independent RCMP member’s association (e.g. the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada) do a better job lobbying for the membership than the DSRRP has?
Well, there you have it. As I noted above, the opinions offered and questions asked are neither authoritative nor definitive. My purpose is to engage you, the general membership, in a discussion. And as an added request, I ask you foreign visitors to the blog (I know you are watching) to weigh in to the discussion. I’m sure the readers of the blog would welcome your opinions, stories, and insights.
Dr. Mike Webster