(Prime Time Crime exclusive Dec. 27, 2004)

Anti-police knees jerk on cue

By Leo Knight

The shooting of a man with a knife by a Vancouver police officer on Boxing Day has brought forward the usual litany of stupidity from the logically lame.

Media reports indicate there was an outstanding arrest warrant for the man when he was spotted by the police.  As they approached the man pulled out a knife and attacked the female member of the police partnership.

With weapons drawn, the police ordered the man to drop the knife repeatedly yet, according to VPD Inspector Ted Shinbine, “He continued to advance and attempted to stab the female constable when her partner opened fire, striking the suspect a number of times.”

Initial media reports were quick to point out that the two officers were “rookies” as if we were to infer that this meant they had somehow done something wrong. VPD spokesperson Constable Sarah Bloor tried to set the matter right at a media briefing when she said, “Fair enough, they are junior in their experience. However, I want to make it very clear they are fully sworn police officers. They've been through all the academy training, and in fact, that academy training is very fresh in their mind, as regards the number of scenarios or simulations that they've had to incur."

Indeed they have. But they have also had the benefit of some pretty high-tech training that their more experienced - if you can call any member of VPD’s patrol division experienced – didn’t have.

Two years ago, the Vancouver police purchased a computer based simulation firearms training system called PRISim (sic) made by Seattle based Advanced Interactive Systems Inc.  But this is not just a latter day or high tech version of the old “Shoot / Don’t shoot” training. This system trains officers to use good judgment in tactical situations.  It is actually called a “judgment training simulator.”

It also features a “shoot-back” feature in which the simulator fires a nylon ball at one of the up to four officers involved in the training scenarios. According to the training officers who use it, the system so closely mirrors a real life threatening situation, trainees finish an exercise feeling agitated and sweating profusely as their adrenalin runs.

The system uses state of the art DVD technology and multiple video display screens to put the recruits in the middle of the action and in as realistic a scenario as can possibly be provided. It also uses multiple scenarios with alterable outcomes depending on the reactions and responses from the trainees in the simulator.

From a training point of view, these so-called “rookies” were as well prepared as they could possibly be when they tried to arrest the wanted man with a knife. Equally, they have spent their time with senior training officers on the streets learning how to do things right. They were as prepared as the Vancouver Police Department could have made them and any suggestion that a more experienced officer might have done something different in this case is not only premature, but naive.

The Vancouver Police Department is a very junior department right now and will be for the next few years. But, it is no different than Edmonton, Calgary or Toronto or indeed the RCMP in this problem. In the early to mid 70s the VPD along with every major police service in the country went through a period of significant growth. The world was changing as evidenced by the FLQ crisis and the events in Munich in 1972 changed forever how security for major events was handled. The next Olympiad, you’ll recall was in Montreal in 1976 and the country geared up for it.

Well all of that was nearly thirty years ago and those men and women who were hired in that period of significant growth are all retiring now. The VPD were hit particularly hard when they got blind-sided a couple of years back and the pension rules changed which forced an inordinate number of productive, good cops to bail early so as not to get penalized financially by hanging around a few more years.

That’s reality. But the men and women who patrol the streets of our cities are the best and the brightest policing organizations can find. They are then provided the best possible training to prepare them to work in a dangerous environment trying to keep some sanity in a world where the victims are the ones forced behind bars.

Being involved in a shooting is a traumatic event even if you are not the one hurt. The actions of those two police officers will be thoroughly investigated by professional investigators with a great deal of experience in the Homicide section. Their work will be reviewed by not one, but three independent agencies; the Crown Prosecutors office, the Coroner’s service and, if necessary, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.

So please, can we dispense with the inane comments like, “Why couldn’t they shoot him in the arm” or “Shouldn’t rookies be paired with an older officer?”  The reaction seems so knee-jerk and predictable when these things happen and always from the position that the good guys did something wrong. 

And that is what is really wrong.



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