Policing expert says understaffing likely hampered RCMP response to N.S. shootings

A policing expert says the mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia last weekend was likely exacerbated by understaffing and lack of information about the situation as it unfolded.

In a 12-hour rampage that began late Saturday in Portapique, N.S., a lone gunman killed 22 people, including Const. Heidi Stevenson.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College and the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said it’s common for small RCMP detachments in rural areas to be short-staffed, especially on weekends.

“They didn’t have a whole lot of information to convey and the people that they had on hand were simply tied up trying to effectively gather, do reconnaissance and figure out what is going on so they could provide proper advice to the public on what to do,” Leuprecht told CBC’s The Current on Wednesday.

Leuprecht, who wrote a 2017 report detailing the problems with the structure and governance of the RCMP, said lack of information could have been the reason the province’s emergency alert system wasn’t activated.

He said to send an alert of that kind, the detachment commander would need to contact the criminal operations officer in Halifax to figure out what was going on and to discuss how to alert the public.

“I think the standard modus was, ‘Well, we’ll go on Twitter,’ as the RCMP often does to inform people about incidents, but then the silence for hours after that suggests they simply didn’t have domain awareness of what might be going on,” he said.

Hard questions are being asked about whether the RCMP did enough to warn the public as a gunman moved through Nova Scotia over 12 hours. Policing expert Christian Leuprecht discusses the response, and the decision to warn people via Twitter rather than an emergency alert. 19:57

On Wednesday, RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said the force was “in the process of preparing an alert when the gunman was shot and killed by the RCMP.”

Nova Scotia RCMP tweeted on Saturday night that they were responding to a firearms complaint in Portapique. People were asked to avoid the area and to stay in their homes with the doors locked.

In a press release issued Tuesday, RCMP said officers responded to a shooting Saturday evening where they found several casualties and no suspect. The area was secured and they began searching for the suspect.

“[At that time,] they still have no information on what exactly is happening,” he said. “They have a bunch of fires, they have several people who’ve been shot, and they don’t know where [the shooter] is.”

Surveillance video obtained by CBC News shows the suspect in the Nova Scotia shootings briefly pulling into a parking lot and changing clothes. 0:59

Around 10 a.m. AT Sunday, RCMP tweeted the shooter could be driving a vehicle that resembled an RCMP vehicle.

The shooter used a replica RCMP vehicle and wore an authentic RCMP uniform.

Leuprecht said it’s relatively easy to access old uniforms and the shooter could have got one at a military surplus store.

“Members are supposed to destroy these when they leave the force,” he said. “But there’s no inventory system that I know of that actually ensures that people destroy the uniform.”

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College and the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is an expert on RCMP governance. (Christian Leuprecht)

Leuprecht said the uniform would have caused “considerable confusion” for the RCMP. 

“It allows him to probably do a lot more harm given that some of the individuals on the road were likely duped by him donning the uniform as well.”

‘Nobody can lose their life in vain’

Leuprecht said the RCMP will need to do a thorough investigation into what could have been done differently.

Brenda Lucki, the RCMP commissioner, said Tuesday that the organization will be looking at its actions.

“In any incident such as this, we always have to look back at what we did. Nobody can lose their life in vain,” she said.

Lucki called the situation “dynamic” as it was over a period of 12 hours and has 16 different crime scenes.

“We have to ensure that whatever happened, there’s always going to be a better way to do things and so if we can take this and move forward and find a better way to advise the public,” she said.


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