New Brunswick

Moncton RCMP likely to face difficult questions about shooting

The tight-knit RCMP community is still in mourning today over the loss of three of its Moncton members, but they know that in the coming months the force will have to scrutinize whether anything more could've been done to prevent one of its worst single-day losses of life.

Killings mark worst day for Mounties since 2005 Mayerthorpe massacre

The RCMP is still in mourning over the killing of three constables and injury of two others, but soon questions will have to be answered. (Canadian Press)

The tight-knit RCMP community is still in mourning today over the loss of three of its Moncton members, but they know that in the coming months the force will have to scrutinize whether anything more could've been done to prevent one of its worst single-day losses of life.

As with any major incident, the police force will conduct a debrief on what happened and what could've been done differently.

Questions have already begun emerging about the tragic attack that killed constables Dave Ross, Fabrice Gevaudan and Douglas Larche and injured two others.

"What was the nature of the call? How many calls came in and was the true seriousness of the call evident to the members when they were dispatched to that location?" asked Glen Wood, who spent 35 years with the RCMP as a superintendent and criminal profiler.

Few details are publicly known about the RCMP's encounter with the shooter but Moncton resident Vanessa Bernatchez described seeing one of the constables get shot. She said he was attacked from behind and appeared confused about where to position himself .

Were they fully prepared?

President of consulting agency Public Safety Innovation Paul McKenna, who has spent 25 years working with police forces, suggests that based on the facts made public so far, there seems to be a gap.

"Clearly, they were not fully prepared for the magnitude of what [happened]," said McKenna in an interview with CBC Radio's The Current.

But other policing experts stress that the job is inherently risky, particularly in situations such as the Moncton one, where it appears the shooter specifically sought to maim and kill officers.

"You really don't know until that first officer gets on the scene and assesses it," said retired RCMP deputy commissioner Doug Lang. "And if the first officer gets on the scene and gets ambushed, man, it's just bad news for everybody."

Don't wait for a review

Veteran CBC journalist, Linden MacIntyre, who extensively covered the Mayerthorpe RCMP shootings, acknowledges that it's difficult to prepare for an ambush and describes the RCMP as "our most vulnerable officers" who are notoriously under-armed.

Still, once the initial grieving is done, the co-host of CBC's the fifth estate says it's important to examine the attack to see if there are ways to prevent a similar tragedy in the future – and not to wait too long to do so.

After the murder of four young constables in the northern Alberta town of Mayerthorpe on March 3, 2005, it took six years for a fatality inquiry to take place.

"There's an awful lot of memory that dissipates in that period of time," said MacIntyre. "And there's a lot of very important insight lost."

"Post-Moncton, I think there has to be some serious effort made that that not happen in this particular case," MacIntyre said in an interview on CBC's The National.

The RCMP made changes to its force following several external and internal reviews of the Mayerthorpe attack.

An 'unprecedented' massacre

RCMP constables were guarding a marijuana grow-op and cache of stolen car parts they had found inside a farm's Quonset hut, when the owner returned and began firing on the officers with a high-powered hunting rifle. The shooter, James Roszko, later killed himself.

The Mounties said there was no way to anticipate such an "unprecedented" and "premeditated" massacre. A public fatalities inquiry in 2011 concurred, calling it a "uniquely tragic event" that couldn't be reasonably "foreseen or prevented."

But numerous recommendations came out of the inquiries, with the aim of better equipping RCMP officers to handle rifle-toting attackers and bringing in policies to help pinpoint community threats.

Every event is unique.- Police consultant Paul McKenna

Among the changes recommended was giving frontline members high-powered, mid-sized rifles called the Colt C8 patrol carbines, a gun already used by other law enforcement agencies due to its precision and higher magazine capacity.

The fatalities inquiry into the Mayerthorpe killings heard that officers had to borrow rifles from neighbours because the local detachment had only one long-barrelled gun.

"It's something our members have been calling for for a long time," said Lang. "When you have someone shooting at you with a rifle, the 9-mm pistol doesn't cut it for a response."

In 2013, the RCMP began training officers on and deploying the patrol carbines, but consultations are ongoing with provinces and territories about whether to provide them to each detachment.

'Every event is unique'

Reviewing the RCMP's body armour system was another recommendation that came out after the Mayerthorpe fatalities inquiry.

The RCMP told CBC News that in 2011 the force distributed more than 2,000 sets of hard-shell body armour to RCMP detachments across the country.

As of March 2013, a new policy went into effect requiring each detachment to assign one officer to assess whether any individuals in the community pose a threat, establishing national guidelines on securing crime scenes and make sure emergency medical teams are available to all divisions.

Whether or not lessons learned from Mayerthorpe would've helped Moncton officers in any way remains to be determined.

"Every event is unique," said McKenna, but what is certain is that the deaths will spur reviews of such targeted attacks.

"There'll be some serious consideration about how police may deploy themselves more effectively to protect themselves [and] the public, and resolve these events much more quickly."

With files from CBC's Alison Crawford and CBC Radio's The Current