Canada

RCMP approves new backup policy in remote areas

CBC News

March 31, 2014

The RCMP approved a new backup policy onWednesday thatdoes not allow officersto respond to violent or potentially violent situations on their own.

RCMP officers will be required to have backup when responding to calls that involve:

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The new policy comes after two RCMP officers were killed while responding to calls on their own in remote northern communities.

RCMP Const. Douglas Scott, 20, was killed in Kimmirut, Nunavut, on Nov. 5. A month earlier, Const. Christopher Worden was gunned down in Hay River, Northwest Territories.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney said the new policy, which could cost millions to implement,is not a direct response to these killings, but has instead been in the works for years.

"We're constantly worried about our men and women out there," Sweeny told reporters in Ottawa. "This policy, I hope, affirms that our concerns are genuine, that [our members] are not to take any hesitation around calling in any additional members."

William Sweeney, deputy commissioner of the RCMP, answers reporters' questions Wednesday. ((CBC))

While RCMP are required to have backup in the situations outlined by the policy, there will be times officers will be allowed to defy the policy. They could take action on their own, instead of waiting for backup, in dire situations.

"They should not feel constrained by a policy in a situation where it's obvious if they don't intervene, somebody is going to get hurt or something very, very terrible is going to happen."

Policy to clear up confusion

Sweeney said this policy has always been an unwritten rule, but he conceded that some RCMP officers have hesitated to use backup in the past. In early December, the CBC obtained an internal RCMP e-mail from a senior officer that demanded officers justify all use of backup.

Sweeney said the aim of the policy is to clear up any confusion and make it clear to officers that they must use backup in all dangerous situations.

"Notwithstanding, in some people's minds out there, there may have been that hesitation in the past," Sweeney said.

"My hope and my expectation is that in all of the incidents outlined [in the policy], members would never have hesitated calling backup … but I'm not so naïve to believe it wasn't an issue in some members' minds."

'We've all done it in the past'

RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Roach told reporters that most officers have likely responded to a potentially risky call alone before.

"We've all done it in the past, gone out to these calls by ourselves because they're innocently reported but when we get there, things can turn bad in a split of a second," said Roach, who is a member of the RCMP's Staff Relations Representative Program, an internal organization that represents officers during policy talks.

"This now allows us to clearly, in the minds of officers, say, 'I don't know enough about this [situation I'm responding to], I want backup."

He noted that the policy also makes it clear that officers won't be questioned by their superiors if they do request backup.

Sweeney said the RCMP is now working on the logistics of implementing the policy. They will have to review the situation at each detachment, determining if more officers or resources are needed to make it possible to have more than one officer respond to a call when needed.

Policy in effect immediately

The new policy could cost $25 million to implement, a source close to the talks told the Canadian Press.

At the press conference, Sweeney saidcosts incurred from the new policy will have to either be newly allocated to the RCMP, or redirected from other parts of the force. Sweeney said consultations will have to be held with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments. There is no firm timeline for these talks.

The policy will be hard to implement in certain detachments, especially thosein remote Arctic communities where there are currently only two officers on staff. Sweeney said these numbers may have to increase.

"It seems to me somewhat unreasonable for people to be on call and on duty 24 hours a day,seven days a week and 365 days a year," Sweeney said.

Sweeney said members are being told to follow the policy immediately, even if the logistics haven't been worked out yet and extra officers haven't yet been hired.

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