New Brunswick

Miramichi police rethink what they share with public after standoff raises fears

Miramichi police say they will change how they communicate with the public after a neighbourhood was sealed off during a recent armed standoff and members of the wider community had no idea if they were in any danger. 

Chief Paul Fiander says there was no immediate threat to the public

Miramichi Police Chief Paul Fiander says information during police incidents will be shared with the public depending on the situation, but if there is a danger, police will always get the message out. (New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police)

Miramichi police say they will change how they communicate with the public after a neighbourhood was sealed off during a recent armed standoff and members of the wider community had no idea if they were in any danger. 

The Miramichi Police Force didn't receive any complaints directly, but Chief Paul Fiander said the department was aware of feedback through social media and from a debriefing after the seven-hour standoff at an apartment house.

On the afternoon of July 3, police surrounded a Queen Street house where a man had barricaded himself inside and refused to come out. Police were told the man had a weapon.

"At the time of the incident, police officers had the building surrounded and there was no immediate threat to the public," Fiander said. 

Anyone in the immediate area was offered a police escort if they wanted to leave, but they were also advised they were in no immediate threat, he said.

"Most of the residents decided to stay right in their homes."

Focus on incident, not social media

People outside the immediate area, however, didn't get any communication from police. On social media. some wondered whether they should feel safe and got no reassurance from police.

"In today's world with social media, there was a lot of information out there," Fiander said. "We did release a statement after it was over." 

The statement posted at 9 p.m. shared some details of the incident, including that it was received as a report of a domestic disturbance, possibly involving weapons. A woman in the apartment was arrested without incident and after a few hours of negotiation, a man was taken into custody without incident. A weapon was found inside.

The Miramichi Police Force posted information about the standoff on its Facebook page after it was over on July 3. (Submitted/Facebook)

Fiander said that when such an incident is unfolding, that's the focus of police. They aren't aware of what is being posted on social media by others. 

"We kind of lose sight of what may be going on on social media because we're not monitoring. We're more focused on the incident itself and there were a lot of resources tied up there." 

In addition to patrol members, Fiander said, the emergency response team was on scene. Streets had to be blocked off mostly to keep curious members of the public away.

As a result, residents in the neighbouring area, not those on the immediate area, were concerned they might be in harm's way.

"Because of all the recent events that have taken place, especially the incident in Nova Scotia, going forward we will certainly look at communicating to the public via social media that there is no immediate threat to the public."

On April 18 and 19, a lone gunman went on a 13-hour shooting rampage that began in the community of Portapique and ended at a gas station in Enfield, 150 kilometres away. Twenty-two people were killed, and the gunman was shot dead by police.

Many criticized the RCMP for not issuing warnings to those living in the area to stay in their homes. 

'Every situation is different'

Fiander said there was no threat to the public during a standoff earlier in July that went on for seven hours. (Submitted/Miramichi Police Force)

Fiander said the standoff at the Miramichi house ended peacefully after negotiations with a person inside. Had there been a threat to the safety of anyone in the area police would have communicated that, he said.

"Every situation is different and every situation has to be handled differently, and we have to very mindful of the information we put out. We don't want to cause mass panic." 

The news release posted on the department's Facebook page after the incident drew comments from a number of people, including Miramichi resident Mark LeBelle. His wondered why, a high police presence is noticeable and roads surrounding a whole neighbourhood are closed, no information was shared. 

"With high-profile cases in the media as of late, residents, especially seniors, are very nervous, and I found it very odd that there was no comms anywhere stating to avoid area or that this was a contained situation and no active shooter," LeBelle wrote. 

"I really hope the upper brass realizes that communication to the public should be very much of future situations. Again, I thank the police force for their ongoing work and keeping everyone safe, especially during this difficult environment." 

From now on, Fiander said, the department's community services officer will ensure messages are put out on three social media platforms if and when it's warranted. 

"Again, if there is a threat to the public, then no matter what the circumstances are, we would convey messages to the public to ensure they were aware if there was a threat." 

Fiander added the provincial alert system can also be used, but this would only be in the most serious cases. 

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