Police uniform, mock RCMP cruiser key parts of investigation into N.S. shootings
Public shouldn't be allowed to buy components from decommissioned police cars, says automotive technician
As Gabriel Wortman moved undetected throughout Nova Scotia for hours, carrying out a deadly rampage that left 22 victims dead, he was helped by the fact that he was driving a mock RCMP cruiser and wearing what police described on Tuesday as "an authentic police uniform."
His vehicle looked "identical in every way to a marked police car," the RCMP have said.
The only detectable difference, police pointed out on Twitter, were five characters written on the side of the vehicle, which were circled in a photo distributed to the public during the hunt for the suspect.
"It wasn't actually an RCMP vehicle, but it was made to look identical to one, and we will trace back every part of that vehicle to find out how that happened," RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said.
Another white Ford Taurus, similar to the one used during the rampage, was parked at the property of Wortman's denture clinic in Dartmouth on Monday. By Tuesday, it had been removed.
How could someone get a mock RCMP cruiser and a real Mountie uniform?
"I would think he had a source somewhere," retired Toronto police homicide detective David Perry, now the CEO of Investigative Solutions Network, told CBC News.
Police haven't yet said how the shooter was able to obtain the uniform or the mock cruiser, or whether anyone helped him.
They're two of many questions police are trying to answer as they piece together the suspected shooter's movements and motivations.
While the RCMP have promised to get to the bottom of how the shooter built an authentic-looking police cruiser, it's not clear how much they'll be able to learn from the vehicle itself.
It was one of two vehicles that were engulfed in flames at the scene of RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson's death on Sunday, police confirmed.
Decommissioned police vehicles commonly sold
A quick search online shows it's not difficult to track down RCMP patches.
The federal government also routinely sells decommissioned, unmarked police vehicles, stripped of things like decals and light bars, on its surplus website.
It's a common practice that gives the vehicles a second life, according to Nova Scotia-based David Giles, an automotive technician and vice-president of All EV Canada, which focuses on developing the electric vehicle market.
"A decommissioned police or service vehicle going to a second life, like a taxi, delivery vehicle, things like that, even personal use, it's not a big deal," Giles said.
"It's great. It's good for the environment, good for the vehicle, plus also the enforcement agencies that are putting those vehicles back out for second life."
What Wortman had, though, wasn't that.
He appears to have bought a new vehicle in an attempt to make it look like a new police car, according to Giles. The photo shared by RCMP showed what looked like a sticker from a car dealership in the passenger-side window.
"Even on a dealer's lot, I believe you can buy that vehicle. You can buy that as a service vehicle," Giles said.
"It doesn't always mean it's a police car. It could go to security companies, it could go to whoever wants to buy it, with the blacked-out wheels and so on."
'Those parts should be restricted'
While police surplus vehicles typically have the light bar and other components stripped when sold, Giles said he saw a pallet of light bars from decommissioned police vehicles for sale at an auction in Nova Scotia just a few weeks ago.
Anyone, he said, could bid on those items.
But he doesn't think they should be sold to the public.
"Those parts should be restricted," he said.
"I feel that there's no purpose for somebody to own a police light bar for a vehicle or sirens or strobe units. What's the purpose of it?"
Dean Goodine has worked on several film and TV productions where he's needed an authentic-looking police car, whether it's an RCMP cruiser in North of 60 or a sheriff's car in an American movie.
When a police agency appears in a movie or on a TV show, the production staff usually need to submit badges and graphics for clearance ahead of time, according to Goodine, who is a motion picture and television property master based in Summerland, B.C.
"We operate under strict legal guidelines," Goodine said.
"But a private citizen who decides that he wants to go off book and do this, it would be not that hard."
In fact, Goodine estimates he could put together a full package, with a replica uniform and vehicle, in only a week, using a large colour printer and the internet marketplace.
"It's just based on time and commitment."
If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.