Class is in session
Earlier that day, a grey, drizzly Friday morning, our group of four reporters arrived at the RCMP Pacific Region Training Centre in Chilliwack—the first media to have a tour of the centre in “six or seven years,” according to Hayes.
As we settled into an unremarkable beige classroom, seated in front of a projected PowerPoint presentation, Cpl. Nick Widdershoven informed us that we were about to experience the same type of training thousands of RCMP officers undergo every year. The idea was to give us, as journalists, a better baseline understanding about how police officers operate, that we can use to reference when reporting on police incidents.
With experienced officers Const. Nick Fleming, Flynn and Hayes joining to help facilitate the discussion, we learned that 2,000 RCMP members come through the Lower Mainland facility—formerly the home of CFB Chilliwack—each year alone.
Our main topic of study during the morning classroom discussion? The RCMP’s Incident Management/Intervention Model (IMIM), last updated in 2008 (see sidebar).
The training aimed to familiarize us with the IMIM’s guiding principles and the RCMP’s risk-assessment processes—basically, all the important elements police, as the last line of defence, need to keep in mind whenever they attend a call (much of the same information Braden recalled and, to our delight, promptly disregarded during his scenario-based training exercise later that afternoon).
The IMIM isn’t law or a linear continuum, explains Widdershoven, but rather a visual, teaching and articulation aid officers can reference when responding to any number of events.
“We don’t have to progress our options on the use of force because it could really put ourselves or the public at a detriment if we had to try things as we go,” he says. “Somebody pulls a gun, I’m not going to work through my OC (pepper spray), baton and taser before I pull my pistol because it’s not going to be safe for anybody.”
The model is designed to be dynamic and circumstantial—just as any real-life scenario can be.
“What we first interpret a situation to be and what it ends up being can change five, six, seven times during an interaction,” explains Widdershoven.
“Every time you do a traffic stop as a police officer, I consider it an unknown risk. I don’t know who is in that car, how they’re going to react, what condition or state they’re in just based on some driving evidence,” he continued.
That means having to continually reassess the risks at hand, which can run the gamut from weather conditions and lighting to their subjects’ behaviour and perceived abilities—i.e. the aforementioned “threat cues.”
Officers tend to look for “the abnormals to social norms,” notes Widdershoven. “If you’re being too friendly, I get on edge. If you’re calling the police for help and you’re too friendly, I’m worried about getting baited into something. It might not be the case and it might just be you, but I’m going to take pause of that.”
“People do all sorts of weird stuff with us,” he continued. “We have a ton of tools—they’re my tools, but if I get hurt, they can become yours. If people start … eyeing our belt, I get really worried. In all honesty, and it’s one of the things that the public doesn’t always recognize, every single call we go to is potentially a gun call—because we brought one.”
Luckily, those weapons rarely have to be used.
“All day, every day, 24/7 from coast to coast to coast in communities big and small, when we’re interacting with the public, less than 0.1 per cent (of interactions) are a use-of-force encounter,” explained Flynn.
Brandon Barrett follows constables Fleming and Flynn down a training centre hallway, as Keili Bartlett and Megan Lalonde look on.
Photo by Braden Dupuis
Const. Flemming shows Brandon how to load his training pistol.
Photo by Megan Lalonde
Keili Bartlett takes aim as constable Flemming and Widdershoven look on.
Photo by Megan Lalonde