Friday, March 04, 2005

What Can Be Learned from Rochford Bridge?

In case you're wondering, Rochford Bridge is a hamlet in Alberta where, yesterday, four RCMP officers were killed while investigating a marijuana-growing operation (or "grow-op"). You can read coverage of it from CBC News, the Globe and Mail and CNews.

You'd have to go back to the 1885 Northwest Rebellion (which was a quasi-military operation) to find a multiple-fatality rate for Mounties.

Already, people are speculating as to how this incident will affect new effects to decriminalize marijuana possession. The National Liberal caucus is poised to debate an Alberta resolution to legalize pot:

Nick Taylor, a former senator and onetime leader of the Liberals in the province where the tragedy occurred, said the incident proves once again that prohibition, whether for alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, doesn't work.

"The way we've done it now is marijuana has become the exclusive prerogative of the criminal element because there's such fantastic profit in it," Taylor said in an interview. "I'm not saying that the four men would be alive if we had legalized marijuana, but I suspect they might be."

This comes under the heading of "Stupid Things Politicians Say." The shooter was known to have a history with police. Legal or not, the possibility and probability of extreme violence would still have been present.

Of course there will be an inquiry into this. If people are smart, it won't be the issue of legalizing pot that will come into question. The questions will be how the RCMP could have handled things better. For instance:

1. All of the victims were junior officers with under 5 years' experience. Should someone more senior have been assigned to supervise the investigation?

2. Did the officers receive training, resources and/or equipment to handle being in a potential gunfight? Things like Kevlar protection, for example?

3. Could backup have been made available faster?

Answering these questions (as well as a few others that other policemen could ask) is going to be very important for the RCMP. Because there's not all that much practical difference between a violent gunman trying to protect a grow-op and a terrorist sniper in an urban environment. Can today's Mounties look after their people if they become involved in a life-threatening situation?