Blue Line

Features Editor’s Commentary
Risky business: off-duty carrying of firearms

February 1, 2020  By Renée Francoeur

A contact of mine and I were recently looking back at some of 2019’s notable events. My acquaintance brought up the policy change at Halifax Regional Police (HRP) regarding firearms storage. It was a matter I’d actually completely overlooked because to me it was a straightforward, appropriate update.

In October, HRP Chief Dan Kinsella announced members would no longer be permitted to take their service-issued weapons home once they were off duty. According to The Canadian Press report at the time, Kinsella said “rules around the carriage and storage of weapons vary among police forces across the country,” and it was noted the new policy in Halifax is the same one he served under with the Hamilton Police Service before starting the Halifax job in July.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no need for an officer to have their gun with them outside of regular duties. There may be special circumstances where that is required … and I have the ability to provide special consideration in certain circumstances.”

As an example, he said exceptions might be granted to officers who are on duty around the clock.

This sounds perfectly acceptable in my opinion and should be a policy in all moderately-sized urban forces across Canada. It’s simply a means of preventative safeguarding — especially when we look into police firearms that are lost or stolen.

Last March, a service pistol was stolen from an off-duty RCMP officer’s personal vehicle in downtown Halifax. According to a November 2019 Globe and Mail report, “a recent count prepared by the RCMP shows that police forces and other government agencies have lost 813 firearms, including 173 to theft, since 2005. Another tabulation found that the Mounties had declared 62 firearms lost or stolen between 2010 and 2017.”

Days after the Halifax policy news, the Cape Breton Regional Police Service stated it would be reviewing its gun policy, even though it said it has not had any incidents involving officers and service weapons while off duty. I salute you CBRPS.

“Police officers are charged with roles that come with unique powers as well as unique responsibilities. The ability to carry firearms is one such aspect,” Kinsella said in an email to Blue Line. “I believe we have an obligation to be mindful of both public and officer safety implications of off-duty carrying of firearms. It is important to recognize that carrying a service weapon off-duty increases these risks, which in turn has the potential to increase liability to the organization. It is also important to factor in exceptions that apply to special considerations required for law enforcement purposes. There are in fact multiple documented cases demonstrating the risks involved, and it is important that police organizational policies and practices address this issue appropriately.”

I’ve mentioned how I see this as an obvious policy for moderately-sized, urban forces with multiple members who rotate shifts in a detachment… I don’t see such a policy being very realistic, in all honesty, for organizations like Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, whose officers are spread across an area that equals nearly two-thirds of Ontario, serving 35 communities.

I understand firearms are “significant pieces” of law enforcement culture, as one of our columnists wrote a couple years ago, and that “it is hard at times not to allow it to define us,” but, like Kinsella said, you don’t need your service-issued guns outside of regular duty, and if you do, of course, I believe special consideration should and would be given.

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