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Someone has to say it!

Jun 10

I wish to begin this piece by offering my sincere condolences to you Claire; and to yours’ and Daniel’s two young sons. I apologize for not being able to call them by their first names. I looked everywhere for them but was unable to locate them. In writing this article I wanted to address you first, as what I am about to suggest could be misinterpreted by you and will be misinterpreted by some. As usual following a tragic death such as Daniel’s we would expect a great outpouring of emotion from the citizenry (who I believe are showing genuine sorrow and appreciation), teary politicians, and a saddened Police Chief. While the first of the three is understandable, the latter two are really not helpful. I’m thinking that if one of those young lads of yours’ and Daniel’s (and the possibility is there) wants to follow in his Dad’s footsteps and become a policeman, we should learn something from what happened to his Dad so he won’t suffer the same fate.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around whether law enforcement is a dangerous occupation or not. On one hand it is high risk (a wee bit different than dangerous). By that I mean, in terms of dangerously life threatening it barely makes it into the top 15 of these types of jobs. It is forced to line up behind jobs like fishers, loggers, pilots, flight engineers, farmers, ranchers, miners, roofers, garbage collectors, truck drivers, and those folks who install and repair the highly electrified overhead power lines. While it is true that none of the jobs I listed are at risk of on-the-job homicide, taxi drivers have a risk of dying by homicide that is twice that of a police person. All of this to say, that there is much confusion even in law enforcement as to the real dangers involved in policing; that, as we shall see leads to complacency.

If we look at research in this area, we will see that even in the USA to the south of us, it is safer to be a police person today than it was for Sheriff Andy of Mayberry. In Canada we have very little good research in this area however some interesting data suggests we have a comparatively low rate of homicide for police persons compared to other countries like the US. Statistics Canada shows that between 1961 and 2009 there were 133 police persons murdered in the line of duty including 8 double homicides, 1 triple homicide, and 1 quadruple homicide; most of these deaths occurred in the early half of this time period between 1961 and 1984. All this to say, that much has been done with training and equipment over the past several years to make things safer for police persons; for example policies regarding high speed chases and, the universal use of body armour. However to my chagrin police persons have become complacent and training in the area of effectively managing interactions involving the “mentally disturbed” i.e. those suffering from a loss of mental balance has not kept pace.

I want to emphasize here that I am not pointing a finger at Daniel or his mates. I am pointing directly at those responsible for supervising them and those responsible for training them. And to those who will be critical of my position, I am well aware that statistical aggregation isn’t the same thing as moment to moment reality. I want to say to them that just because a police person is less likely to be killed on the job today than at any other time in the last Century, it doesn’t mean that today isn’t the day.

I want to refer to a concept that I wrote about in the article just before this one: “It is not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that matters”. This is a concept that in my training of special weapons and tactics personnel I have borrowed from sport psychology. Typically in law enforcement training there is an emphasis on “what” we are going to do e.g. tactical training programs, weapons training, hand to hand combat, etc. These issues are regularly debated at the expense of “how” we are going to get the job done. Sound confusing and esoteric? Hang in there.

There are plenty of examples of “what” law enforcement focused on at this call; and I am not suggesting that they shouldn’t have, only that they appeared to me to have over looked the “how”. They attended the call in numbers (8?), they wore body armour and used a “battering ram”. All good, but where is the “how” are we going to get this man out of his house with as little damage to him and us as possible? The “how” is the purview of those who trained the “worker bees” (Daniel and his mates), and those who supervise them. Successful athletes (and police persons) rely heavily on setting and achieving goals i.e. setting little daily targets in (at the very least) their work lives that will provide them with focus and motivation in the “big game”. The cumulative effect of this process can be monumental and can lead to success at the highest level. (High performance police people must be taught how to do this! I know people like Daniel and his mates; show them how to mentally prepare and they will do it). What I am alluding to here is what I expanded on in the previous post: The difference between “Making it happen” and “Letting it happen”. When you “Make it happen” in training (day to day), you have the luxury of “Letting it happen” in the game. When you “Let it happen” in training (developing sub-standard skills and poor habits), you’ll never “Make it happen” under game conditions.

What I am suggesting is that, contrary to the TV reporter who described this call as a “routine arrest”–there is no such thing as a routine arrest! And this one was much less routine than (apparently) the police were aware. Why didn’t the attending EPS supervisors have the information the neighbours had (now we begin to approach the “How”)? The neighbours described Mr. Radatz as a “bully”, “scary”, “threatening”, an “extreme case”, “introverted”, “odd”, “reclusive”, and “very aggressive”. Why didn’t the EPS supervisors have this information, or if they did why didn’t they use it? I’ll take the liberty of supplying my own answer….because they had been taught to focus on the “What” to the detriment of the “How”. Even 91 year old neighbour Paul Noble got the picture as he put his “How” into words, “I just had that feeling that I wanted to keep a distance from him”.

Please don’t think that I am suggesting that we all go away and leave Mr. Radatz alone. I am, however suggesting that if Daniel’s trainers and supervisors were “switched on” he might be alive today. It could be that we had other options in our tool kit than approaching the front door of a man who we find out is rumoured to have been associated with the “Freemen”. (Anyone do their homework on this group? I was involved with the FBI in a stand off with the “Freemen on the Land” at Jordan Montana……check’em out!). I’ll tell you that to approach an individual who (even in his own mind) sees himself as a Patriot (and a “Freeman”) and has abandoned the rule of law will require a lot of “How” and a little “What”. The “How” in this case could have involved (for example) sitting on the house until he had to emerge (separated from his weapons) and taking him down in a safer area for all concerned, or perhaps calling him on the telephone and having a trained crisis negotiator engage him in a rapport building conversation. The EPS used to be known for the quality of its’ crisis negotiators (Chris, Stew, where are you?)

Back to you and the boys Claire. If I have offended, I apologize profusely. I just wanted you to know that “It’s not what we do, but how we do it that matters”. And Daniel and his mates were only following someone else’s orders! They shouldn’t end up wearing this!!

Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych (#0655)


From → A Tragedy

  1. The Old NCO permalink

    Mike, you are on the money. A well thought out plan for the arrest of this individual could and probably would have ended with a different result. This individual was displaying the traits of a broken and desperate person and going to the door was gambling. The alternative approaches you mentioned should have been used and often have been successful at other similiar scenes across the country.

  2. How easy it is to set up a police officer when he blindly obeys orders.

    Very well said; I was ordered to work by my Chief or I would be fired. Early on into that second unscheduled shift at approximately 1:30 A.M. someone staggered right in front of the police cruiser. Believing him to be in danger of being killed on my shift I stopped to assist this unknown man and as things progressed I was shot five times not 3 as police released to the media.

    It seemed like something routine to me at the time but all the other factors say differently. In the two years on the force I had never seen something that needed my attention in such a way as it was that morning I thought to help save a life and for me that’s all it was.

    At first glance I must admit he seemed confused and very intoxicated. He was having such a hard time walking, he was in the street and he seemed to be unaware of what he had just done. However I was not thinking at that time of why it had just happen to me after I was ordered to work or I would be fired but for this man’s safety, that I never saw the assassination attempt coming.

    How easy is it to set up a police officer when you want him out of the way and to make it look like it was an accident at work?

    Former New York police officer Frank Serpico can vouch for this one and I can say the same for New Brunswick. Something like this assailant’s actions can be used to easily get rid of someone in police work. I’m not saying it happen that way for the Edmonton Police Officers but you got to ask the question why were they first at the door and why was this handle in this way as you so pointed out?

    In my case and in Frank’s case it sounds like the bible story of David when he sent instructions to send a man to the front line and then instructed to back up forces to withdraw because David had sinned with this man’s wife, she was pregnant and he wanted to hide what HE had done. In some of these cases, especially since he was who he was, there is always a reason why a leader with send you first so all you got to do is open your eyes and ask questions.

    Was it planned, sometimes it just happens and its part of the job, but not believable when you are put there?

    As police officers we are told to trust our leaders but is this wise counsil? We are not mind readers and if we were somehow blessed to be so after just two years on a small town police force for example the outcome would probably have been much different.

    The only time I have ever read something that had the same M.O. as what happen in Shediac was when a Nova Scotia pastor’s black son was beaten up by someone who was acting drunk along with others in a Halifax, NS van. For those who are aware of that case you will get the point. Everything about that case disappeared.

    Mike this was well put and if you feel this one is not good for your readers I will understand.
    I just had to mention another possibility that no one seems to be eager to look at that’s all.

  3. Bob permalink

    One of the nine principles of policing (Metropolitan Police, U.K. circa 1829) that essentially formed the foundation for police services states:

    “To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective. ”


    In my almost thirty-two years of policing in the RCMP (retired three years ago) we seem to have lost the internal capacity and training function around capacities in communication, persuasion and negotiation as tools of first use where appropriate: the proverbial training pendulum swinging far right towards tactics. Tactics and tactical training are important for officer safety however the art of communication has been buried in the process. Balance in training approach needs to be restored.

    While I speak in a general sense, I am not offering comment on the recent loss by Edmonton PS as I am not fully informed. The loss of any officer under any circumstances is a sad and tragic event; unfortunately an occurrence I and many others have come to know personally in our service.

  4. saumik901029 permalink

    I agree with you wholeheartedly and you are bang on in your assessment with current day training practices. The RCMP have adopted this “circle of confusion” to refer to when assessing their risk factors at any type of call and what level of force they are going to apply in certain situations. Instead of allowing the member to communicate and think for themselves, the new style of training is turning out robots who are not allowed to think for themselves and cannot improve on their communication skills necessary to diffuse intense and stressful situations.
    Even though there was a communication or language barrier at the YVR incident, this was a perfect example of our guys not being able to think for themselves to come up with a better plan rather than to pull out the taser. Many younger guys are not going to agree with me on this point because that is what they were taught in Depot is to diffuse the situation quickly instead of thinking the matter through and determining the best solution given the circumstances. I am certainly not blaming the members themselves but our training management who come up with these fancy charts to show how the decision was made by the members and justify why they acted in the fashion they did in the circumstances. Dealing with emotionally charged situations involving all sorts of people cannot be explained by a chart on a wall and it has to be communicated through the people (police) based on their observations and experience. It’s not always black and white and the gray matter needs to be explained or communicated through the eye witness accounts.
    Until we start communicating better within the organization, unfortunately we are not going to get better at communicating with the public!

    • Open dialog and comments are getting better in here.

      I agree, the only way to change something is to look at it, not hide it and then call it what it is. If it’s not working and getting police officers killed get rid of it and from there make changes.

      Is the Cart Before the Horse? The Sacret Cow
      Take the men & woman with experience and put them back in active duty and take the new cadets with their instruction booklets and start them out in the offices…. then you might save some lives.


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