Be careful when you open fire

Brian Jones
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We will, of course, await all the facts before passing judgment on Tuesday night’s shootout at Memorial University.

People who have a cop fetish will undoubtedly object to “shootout” as crass sensationalism, and say “gunshot” is the proper word.

Let’s settle on cop-speak: “discharge of a firearm.”

The RCMP has been called in — “tasked” — to investigate an RNC officer’s discharging of his/her firearm during the incident.

Surely one of the first questions the RCMP investigators will ask the RNC officers involved is, “Was the suspect armed?”

“Yes. He had an SUV.”

Consistent with news reports, the RCMP will likely find there was no shootout.

Another fact to be ascertained is whether there was the possibility

or likelihood of a shootout, i.e., whether the suspect had a gun, firearm or discharging device, and whether the RNC officers saw it and noticed that it was pointed in their direction.

Let’s guess no. If it had been otherwise, the RNC would have said so. After all, a cop firing on a suspect in the early evening on a university campus requires some explanation.

Afterwards, RNC Police Chief Robert Johnston said at a news conference that the officers “felt threatened.”

The suspect was in an SUV at the time. Presumably, he was driving toward the officers. Fast. Recklessly. Perhaps with malicious intent. Certainly, he was not discharging his duties as a model citizen, although we await the RCMP’s report to say for sure.

Some members of the public probably want more details. Does RNC policy allow, or encourage, officers to shoot at fleeing suspects? If said fleeing suspect is trying to run over an RNC officer with an SUV, should the officer shoot first and then jump out of the way, or just jump out of the way?

If a fleeing suspect were a known serial killer, a cop shot would be understandable. But the suspect at MUN was seen breaking into vehicles.

He surely posed less of a danger to the public than did a bullet whizzing across a parking lot.

Perhaps the trigger-tugging RNC officer is in for a reprimand once all is said and done. For it to be otherwise, the RNC will have to convince the public that it is OK for its officers to shoot at fleeing thieves.

It could have been worse. Naturally, everyone’s first thought is that someone, the proverbial innocent bystander, could have been hurt or killed, either by a ricochet or direct hit.

And there’s something else to consider. All jokes aside about the RNC’s shooting accuracy, the incident would have been worse than it was if the officer had hit and killed the suspect.

We couldn’t say justice had been done.

Decent citizens would not be glad that a dirtbag with an extensive criminal record had paid for his misdeeds. The principle of the punishment fitting the crime applies not only in the courts, but also on the streets — or, in this case, on the parking lots.

And we can only wonder whether the officer, when the adrenaline stopped pumping, would experience a horrendous amount of remorse and regret. Issuing a death sentence for thievery is not normal, unless you’re in Victorian England.

The last time I used the word “dirtbag” in a column, I received a letter from an angry local lawyer. His clients are not “dirtbags,” he informed me in decidedly uncourtly language.

The counsellor missed the nuance.

Seeing the news reports about the thefts, robberies, drug taking, drug dealing, fights, beatings, break-ins and so on of these young guys — yes, these dirtbags — and the prison sentences they receive while in their 20s or 30s, you can’t help but think, “What a tragic waste of their life.”

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: RCMP, The Telegram

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Recent comments

    February 22, 2014 - 08:45

    While this incident is minor, it does clearly indicate the growing ingrained police culture of using potential & real deadly force to resolve situtions. In the western provinces, BC in particular, the increasing number of civilian deaths is alarming - most involve the individual being under the influence of aldohol/drugs, suicidial, or have mental health problems. RCMP over react by becoming highly aggressive, authoritarin, demanding if the individual is holding a hatchet, knife or some blunt instrument. The latest inquest in BC a veteran Greg Matters shot twice in the BACK, in isolated rural rea, alone, suffering mental disorder, with RCMP overkill in having multi armed officers, dogs, helicopter, ERT, - quite frankly capturing this chap was a training excerise for the boys in red serge to practice only they murdered the confused terrified, mentally confused war veteran -waste of life because the Mounties feed on their culture of machoism and entitlement of power and control at all costs.

  • New Veteran
    February 21, 2014 - 11:37

    Interesting article and comments. Having been to the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Lebanon and Afghanistan in service to Canada, I thought you should know that Canadian Military personnel would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6. If you weren't there, you don't know.

  • No I knows
    February 21, 2014 - 09:45

    All the more reason to arm our city employees. I'm sure the guys who got knocked by Ed Drove felt threatened too. That's only a $750 dollar crime for dines sake! Unless they have a good lawyer of course!

  • Stephen  Redgrave
    Stephen Redgrave
    February 21, 2014 - 08:34

    Well said Brian. Stray police bullets have killed many innocent people in Canada. I promote the RNC as having a cool restraint with their P-226, but , in this case there was a breakdown of sorts.They'll sort it out. Meanwhile , I'm glad no one was killed--for the cop's sake only.

  • Joe
    February 21, 2014 - 08:08

    Thank you Brian Tobin. Now we have gun violence too.

  • Cashin Delaney
    February 21, 2014 - 07:38

    Anyone who faithfully watches The Republic of Doyle knows this is standard modern policing. Jones seems to want to fabricate a grand Murdochian mystery of this ongoing police work, as if he were a 19th century alienist. Why not be overt about his SUV reference and contrast Ed Drover's SUV attack with this one, instead of patting himself on the back for calling dirtbags, dirtbags, and plaguing, taunting the RNC with innuendo? I hope the CBC soon airs a third law enforcement-based show, set in the future, where RNC management may learn that an EMP pistol is the appropriate protection for them and for city workers to have on hand. Safe, clean, protection charged by the coming power of the great Muskrat Falls! No dirtbags harmed, young nor old. The RCMP deals with serial killers Brian, I don't know who deals with serial bores - let me know.

    • DW
      February 21, 2014 - 10:43

      If you're using Republic of Doyle as your baseline for modern policing you need your head examined...and if we're holding our police to that standard then we have failed.

    • Jay
      February 21, 2014 - 13:54

      DW, If you couldn't pick out the humorous sarcasm in Cashin Delaney's post, you're taking yourself wayyyyyy to seriously. Brian, does this mean that police officers can't be politicians either.

    • DW
      February 21, 2014 - 18:34

      Yes, I take plain clothes police officers opening fire at a university very seriously. I take criminals using SUVs as potential weapons seriously. Comments like these aren't sarcastic, they're sad and out of touch. Fortunately for us, the RCMP does not deal with serial killers in NL, but the nature of crime in NL is changing very quickly and that's no joke...

    • DW
      February 21, 2014 - 22:07

      Jay - I picked out the sarcasm, but there was definitely no humour...

  • Bern
    February 21, 2014 - 06:45

    I guess the Criminal Code of Canada is responsible for the law to allow a police officer or anyone the ability to use as much force necessary to defend themselves, although just enough force. In this case the criminal had a weapon which he attempted to use on the officer or at least in a manner the officer felt his life was threatened. The offender went from minor property offender to a violent crimes against persons offender. He appears to have had intentions of doing whatever it takes to elude capture. Would this comments and questions be different if the offender had killing innocent people while fleeing in his adrenaline rush state. Would the question be "Why did the police not shoot this person?". Who knows but keep it in mind that it is sheer luck the offender did not kill anyone as he escape was no Sunday drive to the point he left the vehicle in flames. We entrust the police to protect themselves while protecting us and ask that they be emotionless and unaffected by actions of others.