This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Cops too eager to shoot.

Happy New Year and welcome to the first column of 2015!

This week’s topic: Does law enforcement rely too heavily on the use of deadly force?

Peter de Groot. Du Na Phuong. Naverone Woods. These three men were killed during police interactions during the last months of 2014. In each encounter, officers drew their guns and fired, and in each case criticisms and questions remain if lethal force was necessary.

The concerns relating to the use of lethal force by law enforcement are not unique to B.C., but are multi-jurisdictional across Canada and the U.S. In fairness, in Canada the vast majority of police interactions end peacefully. This is little consolation to the families and friends of people who have been killed by officers. They are people who, in some cases, exhibited signs of mental distress or erratic behaviour. Robert Dziekanski, Ian Bush and Greg Matters are just a few high-profile cases you may remember.

Knowing several current and former members of different law enforcement agencies – most who have never used their guns in all their years of service – shooting or killing someone is not something any officer envisions happening. This doesn’t and shouldn’t preclude examination when use of deadly force results in a fatality.

Preventing any death at the hands of an officer, in particular when dealing with people in mental distress, is something the Toronto Police took action on following the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013. One officer was charged with second-degree murder, and the police chief called for an independent review of the use of lethal force by officers. In July 2014, former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci released what has been referred to as a landmark report, presenting page upon page of recommendations to prevent the shooting of people in crisis.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

This report makes it clear that this is not only an issue of police culture and training – it is a failure of our entire system…


READ the rest of this weeks column, comment and vote here:

***You can read both the Executive Summary and the entire Independent Review of the Toronto Police Service here: for a full look at 80 recommendations made to improve outcomes. A very compelling read.

24 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Cops too eager to shoot.

  1. There is no question that the use of lethal force is overdone. The killings are almost always indefensible. But that is just the worst of it. The disease is police attitude. From Tasers to jumping on people who are prone on the ground, forces of all kinds are unnecessarily applied and applied too often. Even the typical take-charge belligerence of a cop is unnecessary most of the time. The conclusion is clear: police training is poor. And make no mistake: it is largely the training that is at fault. Most cops are good enough. Tough enough. Smart enough. If left to think for themselves, they would do a better job most of the time. Admittedly, there are times when quasi military training is required but those times are rare. Unfortunately, it is the SWAT-cum-military mindset that is the trained-in default setting for these people. They are taught to see the public as the enemy. We are not.
    I have no real beef with any one police officer over any one particular incident (altho the goon-squad that took out Robert Dziekanski was way, way out of line). My complaint is with their training and their trained-in mindset. That can be corrected. And it is long overdue for such a correction. Put another way: if they don’t correct it, it will all get worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Body-mounted cameras will help greatly. In a town of 100,000 in California where all cops are forced to wear them (and cops will have to be made to wear them–generally they hate these camera almost as much as they hate Serpico), physical confrontations and complaints were down 70 or eighty percent.


    2. As I mentioned in the column, I know quite a few former and current officers, as well as people in other areas of federal law enforcement. Some have never had to even draw their gun,one has used it with lethal force and it was unavoidable and justified.There is no way around it in certain situations but I believe those situations depending on where you live, are rare.

      What I see a lot of,is defensiveness.The second an officer is on duty he is faced with a multitude of risks-look at what officers here in Surrey deal with on a routine basis.And the vast majority of officers are excellent and good men. But like every profession,mistakes can be made, and criticism is sharp.

      The report really gets into the heart of the matter, and how dealing with people in crisis for police is not just a police issue, but an issue for the provincial, municipal and federal governments as well.

      In Great Britain, for decades only a certain category of police carried guns. The rest had and have, batons, tasers,mace. Those officers without guns have had to deal with men waving knives, machetes and other weapons while in a disturbed or emotional state as well. Only recently have regular duty officers in a few areas begun carrying guns, not without some controversy from both the public and officers themselves.

      Here’s a story sent by a friend where video was captured of how UK police dealt with a man waving a machete wildly in the street, who had been sprayed with pepper spray and was still going strong. He was taken down and held under the Mental Health Act. I can’t help but wonder how this would have been dealt with elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Why aren’t these cops (if not entirely DISarmed!) at least instructed and trained – under penalty of prosecution – NOT to use firearms against individuals “armed” only with knives?

    Good grief…these guys are paid a fortune, trained and trained, militarized to the teeth…you’d think three or four cops with riot shields and batons could subdue one knife-wielding “threat”!!!

    It SHOULD be a “dangerous job”….that’s what they’re there for.


  3. Lailay you make a good point. I have relatives who were “peace officers ” who seldom if ever needed to use their arms. Their training allowed for firearms to be used as a last resort. Perhaps to much TV. Sad that the young man who was executed at the Safeway in Surrey died needlessly at the hands of the Transit Cowboys trying to prove they were Real Police. Didn’t know Safeway was part of the Transit system. I hope that the inquiry into this is incident asks what was the motivation for the Transit Cowboys to attend an what was clearly a Surrey RCMP call?


    1. First of all, let me make one thing clear: without a doubt, there are moments an officer has no other option than to use his weapon to either save his own life, or someone elses.It happens, has happened and will sadly continue to happen because criminals and violence will never stop.There are cases where lethal force is not only justified but the only possible recourse for that particular situation.Part of the issue is situations rarely unfold as anticipated and when dealing with people who an officer has no background on, it presents a number of variables.

      I don’t know much about the Safeway shooting so I can’t comment.My understanding is transit police responded because they were very close.

      The review deals heavily with training and hiring as well. And there seems to be a difference in how older officers look at this situation as opposed to younger officers. Part of the issue though still is the culture that largely prevents discussion of this without attacks and true ability to understand.

      Living in Surrey, I appreciate very much what the officers on the street deal with.I can’t fathom it. The Toronto Police service chief didnt have to ask for an independent review of lethal force, it was his initiative. And for all intents and purposes, the review looks to make some compelling recommendations,while still recognizing lethal force does have a role in policing. There is no way around it.


      1. Military Police deal with persons who are trained to kill with or without a weapon. I assume they could disarm a person without any lethal force in most cases. I doubt a distraught man, stabbing himself would have been a reason to use lethal force. But I can only speculate on the situation in the store. As a Monty python fan I know the dangers of fruit. Training is surely lacking with the officers involved and the CAF might offer a solution.


    1. To ‘bust a cap’ means to fire a shot. So, we don’t want that. We want no caps busted. Or tasered. Or jumped on. We want the cop to suss out the situation and, of no one else is in immediate danger, then we want them to concentrate on calming the situation and taking some time to do it. Yelling ‘get down, get down now!’ is not helpful. It exacerbates the situation.


  4. bring in coppers from england to retrain without guns and have 10 year plus only for police to carry ,not 5 year rookies
    killed in a minute is appalling-Nov 23 2014 BC


    1. The problem with criticizing police tactics is that it is interpreted as an attack on the police themselves. It is not. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. And we all take criticism and try to do better. Or we should, anyway. And the police employing over-the-top enforcement tactics is a mistake – it is that simple. And they should fix it. Instead of fixing it, we are now seeing PR-style ‘heroic’ examples of good cops delivering babies on trains and other such nonsense. No one needs that kind of propaganda. We just need them to tone down the Gestapo/Swat/bully-boy tactics that are being taught to them. Just as the video cites that only 1/2 of 1% of the cops are bad, I will opine that less than that percentage of the people stopped by police require a ‘show of force’. The point: we do not need to defend the police with trite cliche’. They just need to fix it and then we can move on.


  5. Proper training to start, better recruitment practices and get rid of the paramilitary organization called the RCMP. We need policemen trained to be policemen not soldiers who’s underlying job is to kill people. Fortunately, most of our older more experienced officers have, in spite of the organization they work for, have become good policemen.


  6. I don’t know who to attribute this to, but…………………………..
    I Was A Police Officer.

    >>>> “Today, I will not answer the radio call that your boyfriend has come
    >>>> home
    >>>> drunk and is beating you again.
    >>>> Today I will not answer the radio call that your 16 year old daughter,
    >>>> who
    >>>> is very responsible, is four hours late coming home from school.
    >>>> Today I will not answer the radio call that your store has been robbed
    >>>> or your house has been burglarized.
    >>>> Today I will not stop a drunk driver from killing someone. I will not
    >>>> catch a rapist or a murderer or a car thief.
    >>>> Today I will not answer the radio call that a man has a gun or tried to
    >>>> abduct a child or that someone has been stabbed or has been in a
    >>>> terrible
    >>>> accident.
    >>>> Today I will not save your child that you locked in a car
    >>>> or the child you were too busy to watch who went outside and fell into
    >>>> the
    >>>> swimming pool, but that I revived. No, today I will not do that. Why?
    >>>> Because today, I was killed by a drunk driver while I was helping push
    >>>> a
    >>>> disabled car off the highway.
    >>>> Today I was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop to simply
    >>>> tell
    >>>> someone
    >>>> that they had a taillight out.
    >>>> Today I was killed in a traffic accident rushing to help a citizen.
    >>>> Today I was shot and killed serving a warrant on a known drug dealer.
    >>>> Today I was killed by a man when I came by to do a welfare check
    >>>> because
    >>>> his
    >>>> family was too busy.
    >>>> Today I was killed trying to stop a bank robbery or a grocery store
    >>>> robbery.
    >>>> Today I was killed doing my job. A Chaplain and an officer will go to a
    >>>> house and
    >>>> tell a mom and dad or a wife or husband or a child that their son or
    >>>> daughter or
    >>>> husband or wife or father or mother won’t be coming home today.
    >>>> The flags at many police stations were flown at half-mast today, but
    >>>> most people won’t know why. There will be a funeral and my fellow
    >>>> officers
    >>>> will come,
    >>>> a twenty-one-gun salute will be given, and taps will be played as I am
    >>>> laid
    >>>> to rest.
    >>>> My name will be put on a plaque, on a wall, in a building, in a city
    >>>> somewhere.
    >>>> A folded flag will be placed on a mantel or a bookcase in a home
    >>>> somewhere
    >>>> and a family will mourn. There will be no cries for justice. There will
    >>>> be
    >>>> no riots in the streets.
    >>>> There will be no officers marching, screaming “No justice, no peace!”
    >>>> No
    >>>> citizens will scream that something must be done. No windows will be
    >>>> smashed, no cars burned, no stones thrown, no names called.
    >>>> Only someone crying themselves to sleep tonight will be the
    >>>> only sign that I was cared about.
    >>>> I was a Police Officer….


    1. I was a logger. I was a truck driver I was a fireman………………..what the hell!? People die doing their job. I was a soldier! I was a nurse in Sierra Leone or a shopper in a kosher deli in Paris. No one denies that there is danger in the job. No one wants a policeman to get hurt. All we are saying is that the job CAN be done better. At least, we THINK it can be done better. MAYBE we are wrong but we are not wrong to want innocent, mentally disturbed and African Americans to NOT unduly suffer either. You can read the criticism of police as a condemnation if you want to….or you can read it for what it is: an observation and an opinion.
      Good Grief!


        1. Agreed. There is no ‘fits-all’ situation. For the police or the ‘perp’. It’s all a crap-shoot most of the time. Common sense is required, NOT protocol!


  7. People die on the job keeping you safe. Airline industry,Bus drivers,Taxi drivers… No flags at half staff no parades. Your choice of profession does not mean you can abuse and misuse your position. GET OFF THE HIGH HORSE!!


Comments are closed.