Alerting people about gunman's fake police car sooner may have saved lives, RCMP commissioner says
Nova Scotia Mounties made best decisions 'based on what they knew at the time,' Brenda Lucki says
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says it's "possible" that Mounties could have saved more lives by alerting the public sooner that the Nova Scotia gunman was masquerading as a police officer.
At least 22 people — including an RCMP officer — were killed in the shooting that lasted 13 hours and spread across 16 locations in rural Nova Scotia on the weekend.
In an interview with As It Happens host Carol Off on Friday, Lucki said the Nova Scotia RCMP made the best decisions they could with the information they had, but promised there would be a review of how officers responded to the attack. Here is part of their conversation:
Commissioner, first of all, please accept our condolences for the loss of your constable, Heidi Stevenson.
Thank you so much, Carol. I tell you, it's been overwhelming, the response from Canadians, from retired members, from people in the community sending their well-wishes and their condolences. It's been absolutely overwhelming.
Her funeral was held today. What message would you send to your members who are affected by this loss?
It's a different world with COVID, and all the rules that we follow to mourn are not there. That's not our normal anymore.
But … if they need help, they need to get help. There's no stigma attached to getting help. And we need to make sure everybody and anybody who's affected … they get help.
Because sometimes they might not even be in Nova Scotia. And sometimes it's just their past experience. Something gets triggered. So they need to recognize that and not be afraid to ask for help.
A lot of Mounties who are in the Moncton area certainly are reliving grief, having remembered what happened to three of their members who were killed, and two wounded, [in 2014]. There were a number of lessons that were to have been learned from what happened in Moncton. I wonder if they were applied here. I'm wondering, first of all, if you know if Const. Stevenson — as was understood that should happen after Moncton — did she have armour? Was she wearing body armour, and did she have a carbine with her?
She had a carbine. The hard body armour, I'm not sure. I know that all members, when the call came in … they were advised to put their hard body armour on. I just don't know for sure if she had hers on.
This man took her side arm. Do you know if the carbine was with her in the vehicle?
It was originally, yes.
And what other of the lessons that were learned from Moncton do you think that you [employed]?
One lesson that we did learn — and it's funny, we did go back into those reports after the incident started or occurred just to make sure we don't make the same mistakes twice — and one of them was in the after-action review. They note that moving forward, it's essential that the best practices of leveraging social media as a vehicle for all communications.
Obviously, there's now the emergency alert systems. But, you know, in this situation, the command centre used what they knew, and that was social media, to alert people. That was one of the lessons learned.
Do you think it was effective on the weekend to have used Twitter?
That is one effective way, absolutely. Could it have been different if we used the provincial alert system? You know, the more ways you can alert people, the better. Absolutely. So, you know, maybe a combination of both.
Should [the provincial alert system] have been used on Saturday night and Sunday morning?
I can't say for sure if it should have. What I would say is that they did alert through Twitter, and going back to what I said earlier, you know, the more ways we can alert, the better.
We heard in the briefing this morning from Supt. Darren Campbell, who said at what points they learned that the man was possibly driving a mock police car, and that by dawn, by early morning, they had heard that from the former girlfriend. And so he said that they alerted the officers ... involved in the search. Why do you think the public was not alerted at that point that this man might have been masquerading as a police officer in a police car?
I think the instant reaction is, and it's a very easy one, to put what we call a BOLO ["be on the lookout"] out, because that can be done over the radio. And then steps were taken to start activating announcements through Twitter shortly thereafter.
You know it's possible that people died because they thought it was a genuine police officer.
I'm really at a loss for words because it's just, it saddens me. Any loss of life is one life too many.
We always have to strive to do better. Because anytime there's loss of life, you know, we take that inside. Even though ... we're trained to get into harm's way, it doesn't take away from, you know, feeling like there's more we could do, that there's something different we could do.
Is it not possible that lives could have been saved if the public had known that he was masquerading as a police officer?
Anything is possible. Absolutely.
But in this case, it's not a far out possibility. People were stopped [by the shooter in the mock police cruiser]. They understood that he was safe. There was a woman, [Kristen Beaton], in a car. We spoke to her husband, who said that it's quite possible she believed that he was a police officer. Do you think that at that point, once police knew that he was possibly in a police car, that the public should have been alerted to that immediately?
It's not that I don't want to answer your question. I just, putting myself in that situation, there's always both sides in the sense that — and I would never say that not alerting people is not a good thing.
Like Supt. Campbell said, we thought we had accounted for the three police cars. So, in fact, that's why it may have not have felt like that was something that was a threat.
The shooting of, first of all Const. [Chad] Morrison and then Const. Stevenson, at that point, they knew that there was a phony police car involved. [That's] what we learned from Supt. Campbell this morning.
So that there was a possibility that the public could have been alerted earlier.
Yes, there's a possibility.
Six people were killed in the intervening time.
It's such a tragedy.
So why no message sooner?
The decisions were made based on what they knew at the time. And unless I was there, could I actually give you a reason? And that's what the review will absolutely do.
Is that an answer you're hoping to get yourself?
Absolutely. There should be no life lost in vain. And we need to look at this. We need to review.
And it's not just about the alert. We're going to look at everything we did and see if we did what we were trained to do and do the best we could have.
Do you think that you have lost the trust of some Canadians?
I imagine we have.
I think Supt. Campbell said it best when he said [trust] is a cornerstone of our relationships with the communities. And it's not something that once you have it, you have it forever. You always have to earn the trust. And we earn our trust through our actions and our words with the community.
And that trust is won or lost every single day by the interactions of our members and the communities we serve.
Whether it's an incident, a tragedy like this, or in everyday interactions, we always have to work to keeping the trust that we have with people.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.