'Militarizing police': Winnipeg buys $343K armoured vehicle for officers
Armoured vehicle will protect officers and public in high-risk situations, police service says
The Winnipeg Police Service's purchase of a $342,800 armoured personnel vehicle is part of a distressing trend, a University of Manitoba professor says.
The Terradyne Gurkha MPV weighs approximately 7,710 kilograms, seats eight and has eight gun ports.
Frank Cormier, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, was surprised and "even a little bit disappointed" when he heard about it.
"The idea of militarizing police, this is something that we've been seeing throughout North America, throughout the world, for the past decade or two. It's rather distressing to those who study police and public relations," he said.
The police are intended to serve and protect but instead, they can start to appear as if they are the enemy, Cormier said.
"People tend to feel more afraid when they see an armoured vehicle in the streets of their city, so these things can actually reduce the sense of safety."
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Police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said the service's tactical team performs some 200 search warrants every year, "many of which involve drugs and weapons, and can result in potentially volatile and dangerous situations for the officers and the community."
An armoured vehicle will give those officers another tool in dealing with such incidents and will help keep them and their emergency response partners safe, he said.
Winnipeg police Supt. Gord Perrier said police "struggled with the decision" to purchase it and are aware of the militarization criticism.
"We're dealing with operations and at the end of the day we have officers and members of the public that are put at great peril during those operations and putting a monetary value on life is very difficult."
However, Cormier said he couldn't think of any time in recent years that such a vehicle would have been helpful.
"Certainly an armoured vehicle of some sort will protect police officers while they are inside it, but at some point the police will have to engage with a person or persons that they are looking to apprehend," he said. "So unless they're prepared to remain inside the vehicle and use the gun ports to conduct an armed battle with someone or several people, I don't see on a regular basis how that will be a great deal of use."
Perrier said some people think this vehicle will be used on patrol and he wants to "stamp out that myth right now."
"That is not what this vehicle does. It is held in special operations. It's about weapons. If weapons are present, this is where that vehicle will come into play. And it's not about lethal options. We have a number of non-lethal options, including taser weapons. This enables us to close distance and opens up other options. This does bring us in line with other services across the country. Most services have this capability and we do not," Perrier said.
And then there's the cost of purchasing the vehicle, Cormier added.
"Everything we do in a time of limited funding and resources — if we do one thing, what are we not doing? That's $350,000 that won't be spent somewhere else," he said.
Winnipeg police bought the armoured vehicle with funds it secured within its own budget and notified the Winnipeg Police Board afterward. From now on there will be more oversight of large purchases, said Scott Gillingham, chair of the police board.
"In future references, they'll come to us, the service will be coming to us, consult with us, for any purchase of a $100,000 or more that will be a capital purchase," said Gillingham.
Armoured vehicles a trend in Canadian policing
Winnipeg is among the last major Canadian cities to purchase such a vehicle for its police service. Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Saskatoon, Edmonton, London, Sault Ste. Marie, Peel, Durham and Ottawa all have armoured vehicles.
Prices for those vehicles range from $250,000 to $400,000.
The RCMP has 18 armoured vehicles distributed across Canada. Manitoba's Mounties put one into service in 2012. A spokesperson for the RCMP said it has been used several times.
Winnipeg police said a Gurkha tactical vehicle would arrive in spring 2016.