Blue Line

More firepower will keep ‘bad guys’ at bay: Austin

August 1, 2023  By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Aug. 1, 2023, Fredericton, N.B. – A plan to outfit most of New Brunswick’s peace officers with rifles, Tasers and body cameras sounds like the creation of a provincial police force “on the cheap,” says a criminologist.

And Michael Boudreau, a professor at St. Thomas University, is questioning whether the Department of Justice and Public Safety has done a proper threat assessment to determine if the officers really need the extra firepower.

“They are equipping them like police officers but not calling them police officers,” Boudreau said in an interview Friday. “If they only train them once at the police academy in Charlottetown and don’t have ongoing training, well, things can turn ugly very quickly. Because what police officers are trained to do is de-escalate situations rather than shoot first and ask questions later. You use words not weapons.”

On Thursday, the Progressive Conservative government announced it would begin training and equipping the majority of 200 peace officers with better weapons. These officers are in different divisions and enforce laws in everything from fish and wildlife, to commercial and off-road vehicles, to illegal cannabis and tobacco, to prohibited drugs and weapons.

They often already carry pistols, pepper spray and batons, but the new weapons will give them more firepower.

Kris Austin, the public safety minister, told Brunswick News on Friday he wanted to break down silos between peace officers and police, who often work together.

“They need to have the equipment when things go really bad,” the minister said. “We’ve seen in the past when that equipment isn’t there, it’s much harder for them to protect themselves and the public.”

His department is ordering 100 Tasers, 115 carbines – shorter, easier to handle rifles – and 140 body cameras to outfit the officers at a cost of nearly $1.6 million, money Austin says is already accounted for in its budget.

The Tories have already announced several measures to get tough on crime, and the department’s $367-million budget is a 17 per cent hike over last year’s version.

He said he didn’t know how much the training would cost, but each officer will be sent to the Atlantic Police Academy in Charlottetown to learn how to use the new weapons.

Austin said for the most part the rifles would remain in their black trucks unless a sticky situation called for their use.

“The peace officers will have to do a firearms course that includes safety, marksmanship, tactical training, all of that sort of thing,” the minister said. “So the training is going to be pretty rigorous for them to be able to use these carbines.”

Boudreau said the pressure on the government to cut back on crime, especially in rural areas where angry community meetings have been held, might have forced its hand.

People are demanding a bigger police presence.

“I’m not being facetious here,” the academic said. “Is the government trying to create a provincial police force on the cheap?”

Austin did not address the professor’s question about a threat assessment, and by press time Friday, Brunswick News was still waiting for a response from the department.

However, the minister has been meeting with mayors and community groups in small towns and rural areas of the province who are complaining about the increase in crime.

The Tories have already committed $21 million to hiring 80 additional RCMP officers, including 51 new front-line officers for rural areas. A further $5.6 million will go toward increasing the number of Crown prosecutors and support staff by nearly half.

They also plan on building a new jail for $42 million.

New figures released by Statistics Canada Thursday showed the Crime Severity Index in New Brunswick actually dropped by two per cent last year, the only province in the country to show a decrease. In Canada as a whole, it went up by four per cent, with the worst increase in Manitoba (14 per cent).

But that was a dip in New Brunswick’s overall trend. Over the last decade, the Crime Severity Index in New Brunswick has jumped by 27 per cent, which, next to Manitoba, was the worst in the country, where the rate overall went up by three per cent.

Austin said there was still work to do to reduce crime in the province.

“I’d be much more concerned about the bad guys having the weapons,” the minister said. “And the weapons we’re seeing being seized in New Brunswick are the higher calibre. And we’ve seen tragic incidents in the past when police officers have been killed. That’s why RCMP officers are outfitted with carbines now. Our peace officers face some of the same threats on a routine basis.”

In 2014, three under-equipped RCMP officers in Moncton were killed by a gunman who had a powerful rifle. More recently, in 2018, two Fredericton Police Force officers were killed by a mentally unstable man with a hunting rifle. He also killed two civilians.

“It’s a different world today and criminals that operate in New Brunswick sometimes have a higher calibre of weapons and our officers need to be able to match that in a worst-case scenario,” Austin said.

– The Daily Gleaner

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