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Firearms and ammunition: Submission to B.C. Police Commission

24 February 1993
David Edgar, Chair
B.C. Police Commission

Dear Mr. Edgar,

Following your request, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has reviewed the document entitledFirearms and Ammunition and has met with representatives of the Vancouver Police Department. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this review, and commend all involved for their cooperation.

We are satisfied that the pistol is a technically superior weapon to the revolver now being used. We understand as well that officer confidence in the quality of equipment is an important factor in morale and, hence, effectiveness. In this regard, we also recognize the potential value of the better weapon.

In such superiority were the only consideration, there would be no need for further inquiry. There is, however, the related issue of cost. Given the greater expense of the new weapon and the additional costs of the changeover, the Association is concerned that if the pistol is adopted, any additional budget requirements should not be obtained at the expense of another valuable police program or initiative.

We see a potential for the new pistol to be misinterpreted by the public as increasing the potential for use of force by officers. Combining an intensive training program regarding appropriate use of force with the required weapons training would ensure that officers utilize such force only when absolutely required. This information should be brought to citizens’ attention by means of a thorough public information program. Given recent efforts to increase community awareness and involvement, it is vital to sustain police/public interaction and so reinforce public confidence.

Finally, we recommend that any examination of changes in equipment be linked to a more general review of the changing need for, and role of, police services in the community. Such a review would make it possible to identify needed programs, sills, and training, as well as the best equipment to support these initiatives.

We hope that our comments will be of some assistance to you. Please be assured of our continued interest in these matters.

Phil Bryden
President

Firearms and ammunition
A response to the report by the Vancouver Police Department
20 January 1993

The BCCLA has been given two reports over the past two months which are primarily concerned with examining whether an alternative weapon is preferable as standard issue to police officers in B.C. From these reports and a presentation attended by Charles Singer and John Westwood, it is accepted that the pistol (and specifically the semi-automatic) is a superior weapon. If the issue were merely to choose the “technically best” weapon for police use, then there would be no further need for discussion. There are, however, a number of intervening issues which must be examined before a decision is made to accept this weapon.

One issue is cost. The semi-automatic is more expensive and would require costs for retraining existing officers as well as restocking of spare parts, ammunition, etc. These factors, however, can easily be examined in a cost-benefit analysis which also considers whether these increased weapon costs might reduce the available budget for existing or new innovative police programs.

Even those these cost analyses may indicate that the semi-automatic remains the preferred option, there are a number of non-technical considerations which have not been addressed in the existing reports. These have to do with the broader role of the police function and what purpose a side weapon plays in that role. The basic police argument is that the semi-automatic inspires more confidence in the user and is a better choice should an officer be involved in an exchange of gunfire. This cannot be disputed, but it must be kept in mind that there are very few incidents of shots being fired by the police in Vancouver. In some years, the police fire no shots and according to answers given in the presentation, the usual number of incidents is in the order of two.

Even though there appears to be little need to provide officers with a more effective weapon at this time, it could be argued that if costs are not a factor there is no loss in providing the best possible weapon for those rare occasions when one may be required. This reasoning must be questioned. It is unknown at this time, but requires consideration, to what extent police actions and policy affect public attitudes. If there is little demonstrated need for a larger capacity weapon, then does issuing this weapon result in a more general acceptance of these weapon types as well as a more general increase in the use of larger or more lethal weapons? Is this in keeping with the notion of “minimal force”?

In summary, then, the concern is that the discussion of weapons is being carried out in isolation from the broader discussion of the need for police services and the role which weapons play in that role. A better weapon may be seen by officers to increase their safety, but it is not clear that these changes will help to meet the public’s need for effective police services in our changing society, and may in fact place too much emphasis on force as a deterrence to crime and social problems. The BCCLA is concerned that any discussion of changes in police armaments, vehicles and other equipment should be part of a larger examination of the present and projected need for public police services and the most appropriate mechanisms for supplying these services. This larger study should examine programs, policies, and training as well as equipment.