Semi-Automatic Rifles On The Way To Some Winnipeg Police Patrol Officers

Semi-automatic carbine rifles are already used by members of the Winnipeg Police Service's tactical unit, but soon some general patrol officers will be trained to use them. (Shutterstock)

Semi-automatic carbine rifles are already used by members of the Winnipeg Police Service’s tactical unit, but soon some general patrol officers will be trained to use them. (Shutterstock)

CBC News Posted: Apr 01, 2016

‘Fair share of officers per shift’ could carry the weapons, training possibly starting this summer

The Winnipeg Police Service will be purchasing semi-automatic carbine rifles for some of its general patrol officers, to be used only in dangerous situations.

The body that oversees the police force, the Winnipeg Police Board, approved a plan to purchase the rifles and related equipment at an estimated total cost of $200,000. Police officials would not specify how many rifles will be ordered.

Tactical unit officers already have this type of weapon, but the rifles will now be provided to general patrol officers who receive training to use them. That training could start this summer.

“We’d be using [them] for dangerous gun calls or for active shooters, so every day could be different, every week could be different,” deputy police chief Art Stannard told reporters on Friday.

“There might be weeks when we don’t use them at all and there might be a week we’re using [them] twice or three times, I’m not too sure. It depends on the incident, of course.”

Stannard said general patrols are often first on the scene, so it’s important to arm them. The rifles will allow officers to engage with active shooters from a safer distance, he said.

“If they have to eliminate that threat, they can do it from a long distance versus trying to sneak in there and go through buildings and try to meet that person head-on,” Stannard said.

“We have the luxury now of a distance, which protects the members and will also eliminate the threat quicker.”

‘We have to be prepared’

Stannard said he hopes officers won’t have to use the new rifles, but they are needed due to escalating gun violence in all parts of the world.

“If you see what’s happening in society right now, and you read the paper or see the news, every day there seems to be a shooting incident somewhere in the world, somewhere in the U.S. and in Canada,” he said.

“We have to be prepared to handle that, and part of the toolbox kit [is] these rifles.  They can do a job from a long distance if they have to.”

Supt. Bruce Ormiston said members who want to use the new rifles must undergo extensive training before taking them into the field. As well, they have to re-qualify to use the rifles on a yearly basis, he said, adding he couldn’t discuss specific numbers for security reasons.

“On a shift I’d say you’d see a fair share of officers having the ability to take that weapon with them,” he said.

“Again, it’s not all officers using them. It will be officer-based, not vehicle-based, so at the start of a shift that officer will take that weapon with them into the field.”

Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin said he also hopes the new rifles will never have to be used, but he added that it’s important to protect officers and citizens.

“The unfortunate reality is with terrorism, with active aggressive shooters, the number of high-powered rifles that our members seize on a daily basis,” he said.

“I hate to say it, but I think eventually Winnipeg will see a tragedy similar to other parts of the country.”

The police board approved the purchase of the guns without putting the contract out to tender.

The contract for the Daniel Defense Patrol Rifles was awarded to a company called Wolverine Supplies.

Purchase questioned

But Frank Cormier, a criminology instructor at the University of Manitoba, questions the idea of buying semi-automatic rifles for general patrol officers when the tactical unit already uses them.

“The RCMP, for example, are responsible for policing much vaster areas where … they often don’t have even lightly armed back-up close by, let alone a more heavily armed tactical squad if needed. So there’s certainly a place for more patrol carbines for an outfit like the RCMP,” he said.

“Here in Winnipeg, because we do have a tactical response unit that has access to those firearms when needed, really lessens the argument that we need to have every officer equipped with them when back-up and help is that close within the city limits.”

Cormier added that while he is not against protecting police officers or the public, the question is whether buying more rifles is the right investment for the city.

“When we spend money and resources on any one given tool, that means that’s money that we can’t spend on something else, somewhere else we can’t put our focus,” he said.

“The other thing is certainly in parts of the world there are dangerous shooter situations, but we need to remember that we are talking about Winnipeg. And I’m not saying that it couldn’t ever happen here, but we have to look again when we are assessing the risk and the ones that we should focus our attention on, we have to think about what risks are actually likely to occur,” said Cormier.

Search for new police chief getting underway

Meanwhile, the police board is gearing up to find a successor to police Chief Devon Clunis, who is retiring after 29 years on the force.

Coun. Scott Gillingham, who chairs the board, said finding a replacement for Clunis is their top priority.

“We have a diverse board, diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, and so it will be good to have all board members as part of the committee,” he said Friday.

“The board will meet as a recruitment committee starting next week to really begin to lay out the process.”

Gillingham said there is not a timeline in place yet, but he does not expect the search to be a long process. He would not say if the board already has its eye on someone to become chief.