Statement from D/Commr Sweeney on RCMP Backup Policy
5 DECEMBER 2007
Good afternoon. I would like to thank you all for joining us today. My name is Bill Sweeney and I am a Deputy Commissioner in the RCMP currently serving in the capacity of Senior Advisor to the Commissioner. I assumed this post in July of this year. Prior to this appointment I served as the Deputy Commissioner in the North West Region, where I oversaw RCMP operations in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.The purpose of this news conference is to offer you some perspectives and information about the RCMP’s efforts to develop a national backup policy. This issue has attracted considerable attention lately particularly as a consequence of the tragic losses that our Force has recently experienced in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. I hope that I can offer you and the Canadian public with additional information that will allow you to be better informed about the complexities of articulating a reasonable national policy and the challenges inherent in implementing it virtually right across this country.
Obviously, it should be a fundamental principle that the safety of the both the general public and the men and women who serve this country as police officers must be the primary consideration for all operational decisions. This should be respected and applied irrespective of whether the decision an officer must take is specifically prescribed in operational policy or if it is a decision that they must instantly make because they are faced with an immediate operational emergency.
The RCMP provides services in many different operational realities. Parliament has authorized the federal Minister responsible for the RCMP to enter into agreements with Provinces, Territories and Municipalities to allow the RCMP to serve as their uniformed police service.
As a consequence, you will find RCMP officers providing conventional police services in a manner similar to any other large or small municipal police department in this country. You will find our men and women in rural environments providing services in 8 provinces and 3 territories. RCMP members provide federal policing services both nationally and internationally. Our members can serve in units that are comprised of hundreds of officers functioning within a large metropolitan setting, they can be in very small outposts, hundreds of miles away from the nearest neighbors or they can be in a reality that encompasses all sorts of variations between these two extremes.
Each and every day, our men and women make thousands of operational decisions and rely heavily on their training and their experience to guide them as they apply common sense and good judgment in their duties.
We select our men and women very carefully, as do all police services in this country. We need people who have the aptitude and the intellect to respond quickly to the many different challenges that we face in policing. We expose them to the very best basic police training that we can deliver in our Training Academy in Regina, Saskatchewan. Virtually upon their arrival at Depot, RCMP cadets are taught to consider the risk factors in any situation they may encounter and drilled on applying appropriate tactics to safely respond to any threat. This includes stopping, perhaps tactically repositioning oneself, and waiting for back-up to arrive to continue with the intervention.
This is not a new concept that has just emerged as a consequence of recent sad events, this has been part of our cadet training for many years and the norm in police operational responses for many, many years.
It is important to recognize that a national policy that imposes a requirement to consider backup is an affirmation of the principles we teach our members from their time in training. Given our wide range of policing environments, up to this point, we have relied on our unit commanders to develop backup plans and procedures that reflect their operational realities. It needs to be noted that our levels of service are determined through negotiations between the RCMP and the provinces, territories and municipalities and the reality is that we, like all police and government services simply do not have unlimited pool of resources available.
In adopting a national backup policy, there will be resource implications. We could see the redeployment of existing resources as well as more rigorous residency requirements. Potential changes will not be taken lightly or imposed unilaterally. Implementation will require discussion with our contracting partners and our employees.
We have worked closely with our Staff Relations Program to get to a point were we are close to adopting a national backup policy, but the implementation of this plan will require a period of time given the challenges of resources and residency requirements which I have already mentioned. In the interim, the Commissioner has reiterated that officer safety cannot be compromised. There is no expectation that members should hesitate to call for backup when they deem it necessary.
What we want to do in this policy is reinforce in their minds that certain calls MUST be handled through a multiple member approach, so that there is no ambiguity. We also want them to be clear on which situations can be handled with informed discretion, based on immediate circumstances.
However, I must point out that no matter how prescriptive this policy is, it will not eliminate the inherent risks of policing. This is a very important point that bears repeating. Ours is a society where risks are everywhere. There are hazards on our streets and highways. There are stressed people who become careless and cause problems. There are people with criminal intentions who don’t care who is harmed on their way to getting what they want, whether it is money or drugs or revenge or any other objective they may have. Canadians expect that police will respond when they call 9-1-1 and they are terrified or hurt or in danger. And they expect them to come NOW.
We constantly review and reinforce policy and procedures to ensure that our members respond in the safest way possible to the situations they will encounter.
It is easy to question the decisions of a police officer in an incident when it’s all over and the dust has settled. It’s easy to discuss what we would have done under the circumstances, or criticize what we have observed.
What is not easy is to step forward and say, “I’ll go.” The members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have all said “I’ll go.” I hope Canadians think about that when they see a police officer on the street, driving by in a car, or outside a bar on a Friday night. When there is a need for police assistance, Canadians want, need and expect an immediate response. Our members are prepared to do no less. As an organization we are and must continue to do everything in our power to support them.
D/Commr Bill Sweeney