Nova Scotia

RCMP says 94 per cent of N.S. officers received active-shooter training

RCMP say that as of last month 94 per cent of its officers in Nova Scotia had completed specialized active-shooter training, which teaches police how to immediately take on a gunman rather than trying to contain the threat.

'You can't wait. If you don't stop them, who will?'

RCMP vehicles last month blocked the crime scene in Portapique, N.S., where a gunman began a 13-hour rampage. (Olivier Lefebvre/CBC)

RCMP say that as of last month 94 per cent of its officers in Nova Scotia had completed specialized active-shooter training, which teaches police how to immediately take on a gunman rather than trying to contain the threat. 

As of January 2018, active-threat training — including both indoor and outdoor "immediate action rapid deployment" (IARD) training — became mandatory for all RCMP officers.

Last month, a gunman went on a 13-hour rampage through central Nova Scotia, killing 22 people, including an RCMP officer who tried to stop him, before being shot to death by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

RCMP spokesperson Catherine Fortin said preparing officers to deal with an active shooter includes interactive drills, scenario-based training and live-fire training.

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But an expert in active shooter incidents said it's "obviously impossible" for police to be fully prepared for every scenario they might encounter.

"You've got somebody who's really shown that they have a capability and a desire to murder people and now we're asking officers to put themselves in harms way to stop that person in order to protect the public," said Pete Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.

"That's why we focus on the concepts and principles-based approach about, here are the things you're trying to prioritize, here are the types of things you're trying to do, so that they can then adapt those to whatever the specifics of the general situation are."

Blair testified during the RCMP's Labour Code trial in response to the 2014 Moncton, N.B., shooting where a gunman opened fire on five officers, killing three of them. 

He said the force critically assessed what had what happened and how police could have better responded, including "tactical changes."

Pete Blair, centre, testified in 2017 during the RCMP's Labour Code trial related to the Moncton Mountie shootings. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Blair said most police forces in North America now make this kind of training mandatory so officers know how to respond to a life-threatening situation.

"This would fall in the category of a low probability but high criticality kind of event, meaning that it's not very likely this kind of event is going to happen. But when it happens, it has very dramatic consequences," he said.

"They know that the potential for encountering someone who will kill them is high and so there's a lot of stress. That's what the training is about, is to prepare them and teach them how to think about the situation, what things they should be doing and prioritizing."

Blair said most police forces teach officers that their first role in these types of situations is to stop the killing. That means bypassing injured victims to focus on stopping the attacker.

Blair said with those priorities in mind, officers may not have time to call for backup.

"It's more important, generally, for the officer to deal with what's right in front of them then it is to turn the radio on. The old saying you'll hear from old police trainers is, 'You need to deal with what you're dealing with, because that dispatcher is not going to jump out of their chair and come help you.'"

People mourn the death of Const. Heidi Stevenson outside the RCMP detachment in Enfield, N.S. (Robert Short/CBC)

A 2017 post by the RCMP on active shooter training at the academy in Saskatchewan says that in about 90 per cent of these kinds of events, the active shooter is stopped by a single police officer — often because there isn't time to wait for backup.

"You can't wait. If you don't stop them, who will?" IARD trainee Const. Joanne Lauer said at the time. "You can't spend time thinking about whether or not you can or can't do it. You have a job to do."

RCMP officers are also trained in the Incident Management Intervention Model (IMIM), a visual aid to help assess risks, considering factors like the presence of backup, availability of cover, weather and previous encounters with the individual. They are recertified annually.

Blair said he's heard from officers that when faced with an active threat, their training does kick in, especially if they were in a similar scenario during training.

"We've definitely had several people who have been in situations and then reported back to us and said, 'This was exactly like this particular scenario that you put me through and that really kicked in.' Some have even reported hearing their instructors coaching them through what they're supposed to be doing in the event," Blair said.

"The idea of scenario-based training is to make the situation that you're putting the officers in as close to what happens in real life as possible. So that they have some experience and have encountered something at least similar to this, and that helps them to grasp onto the situation that they're in."

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.