RCMP members at risk

The Mid-Range Vulnerability

15 March 2015

Right on the heels of the Independent Review into the Moncton Shooting, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) suffered another violent gun attack on their stretched line of ­operational officers – this time near ­Edmonton – killing Const. David Wynn, and seriously injuring an unarmed Auxiliary officer.

In his 129-page Independent Review of the 4 June 2014 Moncton shootings, former Assistant Commissioner Alphonse MacNeil remarked on the lack of deployed tactical carbines and training, but the Review also highlights inadequate support, communications, intelligence, and supervision during the crisis in which a single perpetrator had Mounties in the Moncton region outgunned and outmanœuvred, not unlike the 2005 Mayerthorpe shooting.

As far back as October 2011, the RCMP officially determined the need for additional firepower for their police officers. This was based on a 2011 memorandum to the membership by then Commissioner William Elliott, where he wrote of “gaps in our operational firearms capabilities.” Yet four and a half years later, the carbines are difficult to find among RCMP patrolling officers qualified to operate them.

It is important to note that C8 carbines manufactured by Colt Canada are already in use by 53 Canadian law enforcement agencies, including the second largest police force in Canada, the Ontario Provincial Police, which keeps one in each patrol cruiser. And yet, after all these years of known shortcomings, these weapons were not deployed in Moncton due to (a) not enough members qualified to operate them; and (b) the few they had were allocated to training and not readily available.

In another example of complacency over officer safety, the hard body armour (HBA) which has been issued to a number of detachments, is rarely employed. HBAs are heavier and carry additional ballistic plates to defeat higher-powered weapons.

In her memorandum to all RCMP officers on 17 June 2014, immediately following the Moncton tragedy, Deputy Commissioner Janice Armstrong – head of the Contract and Aboriginal Police Branch responsible for equipment acquisitions – stated that “HBA has been available to all RCMP detachments since March 2011 […] The HBA is not intended to be part of each members’ personal kit, but made available as needed and when circumstances require.” However, according to the MacNeil report, the members responding in Moncton were neither informed about HBAs nor had they been trained in their use.

Thanks generally to the professionalism of rank and file officers; the RCMP is regarded as a versatile and effective agency with more than 19,000 sworn members who patrol towns, cities, borders, seaways, highways from coast to coast, and into the high Arctic. Most RCMP uniformed officers are alone on patrol in their cruisers, while many isolated fly-in detachments have one or two officers on duty to cover hundreds of square kilometres, so it is essential that appropriate firepower be immediately at hand.

Legacy firearms
To elaborate on the reported “gaps in [the RCMP’s] operational firearms capability” mentioned by Commissioner Elliot, the Mounties use a number of different weapons platforms:

The current long rifle is the .308W calibre Remington 700P bolt-action rifle with a low-capacity, hunting type magazine. Many are equipped with Leupold telescopic sights or use the stock iron sights. The 12-gauge, Remington 870 pump-action shotgun has been a mainstay on detachment for decades and has been produced since 1951. The Wingmaster shotgun, as it is known, equipped with iron sights, pistol grip and folding stock, is normally kept racked inside the patrol vehicle with the limited tube magazine holding SSG pellets and a rifled lead slug or two. But in recent years, there has been less availability of training, and therefore the routine deployment of the shotgun in patrol cars has been reduced more and more.

As for the .308 rifles, they are almost never removed from the detachment lockups. They are traditionally used to dispatch dangerous/injured wildlife or occasionally to hold a barricaded individual until negotiators and tactical units arrive on scene. There is no longer training for this powerful weapon, not even in basic training, at the Academy in Regina.

Other ad hoc weapon choices that were reportedly employed during the incidents at Mayerthorpe and Moncton include privately owned hunting rifles, which were commandeered by the Mounties to supplement their short-range guns.

Interestingly, and perhaps even unbelievably, the RCMP Operations Manual 4.3.4. permits this borrowing of private firearms for operational police use during the aforementioned shootings – for cases when the RCMP’s own arsenal is inadequate to deal with such incidents.

In the tactical context of the open country, a short-range pistol would be ineffective, as would be the shotgun, while the small capacity .308 long rifle with scope – if available and if someone in the detachment is even trained on it – is effective up to 1000 metres. This leaves the reported mid-range gap in both reach and magazine capacity.

Even in the event that there are enough carbines for allocation to all uniformed officers, there is also the pressing gap in training members on its employment and ensuring members have sufficient ammunition for operational contexts. Both of these issues were discussed in detail in the ­MacNeil Independent Review.

Following the murders of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe in 2005 by a lone gunman, it was found that calls involving high-powered rifles and assailants are being attended to more frequently, not just by the RCMP but by other law enforcement agencies, as well. Kativik Regional Police officer Steve Dery was shot and killed in March 2013 when a high-powered hunting rifle was used by an armed criminal element in Kuujjuaq, in Quebec’s Arctic region.

In response to the escalation of these types of events, 53 Canadian law enforcement agencies have been employing carbines on patrol for better protection. The RCMP procurement of an equivalent platform has been ongoing for five years, and is becoming an even more contentious process in the light of the Moncton shootings in June 2014. Evidently, gaps have continued to go unanswered in many operational cases.

Safety vs Reality
In Commissioner Paulson’s email to all Mounties in July 2014, just weeks after the Moncton shooting, he stated that the RCMP had “succeeded in getting the first carbine out the door in 2013… [the RCMP has] been carefully deliberate in the rollout and, yes, it may be that some aspects could have gone quicker, but [the RCMP] currently [has] 1,330 out there, another 219 arriving in October and more coming.”

Particularly when operating in remote areas, in which the closest back up can often be hours away, it is hard to believe that having 1,600 patrol carbines allocated to an agency of 20,000 could be considered sufficient to address this safety gap.

With approximately a quarter of the uniformed Mounties on patrol at any given time, this leaves many at a tactical disadvantage, as learned all too well at Mayerthorpe and Moncton.

In the wake of the Moncton tragedy, many within academia, politics, and law enforcement have come to question why these gaps reportedly continue to go unanswered. Following this criticism, Commissioner Paulson stated in his agency-wide email, “that it is a shallow and easy analysis of these murders to link them to absence of the carbine… I ask you not to disrespect [the three murdered officers’] service and their sacrifice by unfairly and prematurely judging how or why they died.”

Six months after the shootings and the commissioner’s subsequent statements, the Moncton shootings’ Independent Review stated that the “patrol carbines would have given a more effective lethal force option and could possibly have influenced members’ risk assessments, tactical approach and confidence levels. This firearm was approved specifically to address this type of call.”

Furthermore, the report states that the lack of this type of weapon, and the training to operate them, was found to be one of the key circumstances that contributed to the deaths of the three officers. Additional conclusions were the lack of HBA, supervisory direction, communications and tactical training by initial responding officers. Even the highly visible yellow stripes on uniform pants were once again noted as factors in aggravating risks to officers.

The Colt Canada C8IUR (Integrated Upper Receiver) Carbine exceeds present standards and will help facilitate the ever-growing need for maximum flexibility in a mid-range option.

Patrol Carbine Project
The C8 Carbine is said to exceed all standards and facilitates the ever-growing need for maximum flexibility, not to mention the reported mid-range gap. With an effective range of more than 500 metres and using a standard high-capacity NATO magazine, this carbine uses a 15.7” floating, hammer forged, heavy barrel of exceptionally high quality. According to the manufacturer, Colt Canada, the barrel, which uses a 1-in-180mm twist rifling, is surrounded by a four-rail attachment system developed initially in 2009 for the armed forces of the Netherlands. The RCMP’s C8s are tested and fitted out by the Force’s armourers in Regina and Ottawa prior to being sent to divisions and detachments. Standard police C8 features also include a forward grip and a trigger activated tactical targeting light.

The initial 2013-2014 fiscal year procurement of approximately 500 C8 carbines for RCMP general duties also included updated armour systems and additional training. Although RCMP headquarters in Ottawa made the initial evaluation, HQ has stated that divisional commands made their individual decisions as to numbers and local deployment.

As is the standard for many of the police variants of the carbine, the RCMP’s choice of optics for the C8 is similar to the U.S. Army’s rugged M68 Close-Combat Optics, in which red-dot sighting is used. It is also compatible with various other technologies if the need arises.

The C8’s pedigree goes back to 1956 when Eugene Stoner first developed the AR-15 under the Armalite brand, then sold the concept to Colt Defense. First issued in 1963 and much more reliable today than its early M-16A1 predecessors, it was used extensively during the Vietnam conflict.

Today, many elite NATO units in the European Union and North America employ the latest versions, including the British SAS. The new RCMP C8, using the 5.56mm in a typical NATO load, is a powerful, highly accurate carbine with a high muzzle velocity at 950 m/s, even when compared to the potent 7.62mm and 308Wcal cartridges.

Future considerations
In the context of operations, this gap can only be realistically addressed once an adequate amount of carbines have been distributed throughout the RCMP and, perhaps more importantly, adequate training and ammunition is there to ensure these platforms are implemented for exactly the purpose for which they are meant in the first place. In consideration of the other glaring shortcomings discussed in the Independent Review by retired Assistant Commissioner MacNeil, to once again see RCMP officers on the evening news struggling for cover behind their police cars, armed just with pistols, while scanning a dense forest for an assailant well out of range, is unacceptable and must not happen again.

Casey Brunelle is a university student and a member of the Primary Reserves.
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