August 11, 2020

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Bulk of calls to birthday parades

An armed Brandon Police officer covers a multi-suited residence on 15th Street from the rooftop port of the force's armoured rescue vehicle earlier this year. (File)

An armed Brandon Police officer covers a multi-suited residence on 15th Street from the rooftop port of the force's armoured rescue vehicle earlier this year. (File)

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Brandon police’s armoured rescue vehicle was deployed on three days for firearm searches in its first six months, but also to approximately 28 birthday parades.

The Sun filed freedom of information requests for each instance the vehicle was deployed since police acquired it in December 2019. Documents show that as of June 24, it was deployed on three days for five separate search warrants around the city.

In those searches, police seized a total of five rifles, one loaded shotgun, two airsoft rifles, one CO2 handgun, 100 rounds of ammunition, bear spray and approximately 0.6 kilograms of cocaine, according to city documents.

The first deployment was on Jan. 16 to the 300 block of 15th Street. The ARV was deployed again on March 18 to three locations: the 1000 block of 10th Street, to Meadowlark Trailer Court and to the 600 block of 16th Street. The third deployment was on March 20 to the 300 block of Maryland Avenue.

The BPS filed "numerous charges for firearm and drug-related offences" from those search warrants, according to the city’s accessibility and privacy officer, Ian Richards.

Brandon police Chief Wayne Balcaen said it is difficult to predict how often it will be used in a year, but the use so far this year is about average. He said the deployments earlier this year were considered "high risk" as they involved guns.

"I think it went well, (the ARV) is also used to transport out tactical members to the scene, and it’s then there at the scene should things turn where we have to make use of it," Balcaen said.

"Our goal on any of these is to resolve any incident peacefully. When we get called out to this it’s because the situation has got to a point where we need to deploy special resources."

The vehicle — built specifically for BPS by Terradyne Armored Vehicles Inc.— was purchased by the province for $400,000 through the Criminal Property Forfeiture Fund. It was first announced last summer, but delivered just before Christmas last year.

The tactical vehicle, which stands approximately nine and a half feet tall and carries up to 10 officers, is available to respond to high-risk incidents in Brandon and surrounding communities in southwestern Manitoba.

An interior view of Brandon Police Service's armoured rescue vehicle on display during the vehicle's unveiling last year. (File)

An interior view of Brandon Police Service's armoured rescue vehicle on display during the vehicle's unveiling last year. (File)

While the ARV was deployed on three days for search warrants, it was sent out much more frequently for birthday parades first responders put on in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 156 children’s birthday parades put on by emergency services in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the armoured vehicle was deployed an estimated 28 times.

"Whether or not the vehicle was sent on parades was dependent on whether or not the ARV was at the BPS station, being used by members of the tactical team for training, vehicle familiarization, or other purposes," Richards said.

"The estimate of 28 parades involving the ARV was arrived at by the head of the tactical team asking members approximately how many parades they thought they had participated in using the ARV, and then totalling the estimates they provided."

Chris Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University who researches policing, said using the ARV in birthday parades is a way for police to normalize a military-style vehicle.

"Part of that is a way of conditioning the public to accept these vehicles," he said.

"When you can get kids to think that they are cool or neat and play around them, it starts early. Why do the police need a vehicle … that is specifically meant to be used in circumstances where there is an armed conflict or an armed conflict with police, and now it’s making an appearance in birthday parades? There’s a disjuncture there."

Balcaen said during the vehicle’s unveiling that it is not armed with any weapons and it meant strictly as a rescue vehicle. He said it is not used for militarization or in offensive manners.

Considering the number of deployments in the first six months, Schneider said the $400,000 the province spent on the vehicle may have been better spent on other police resources.

"When you take $400,000 and divide it by three, are we really getting our bang for our buck here?… I think the money probably would have been better suited to maybe hiring two mental health crisis workers to go on calls — lots of calls to service are to people in mental health crisis," he said.

The need for the vehicle is still present, Balcaen said. The province’s decision to buy the vehicle followed a period where BPS’s Emergency Response Team was sent out 14 times in 2018 and six times in 2019.

Brandon Police Service Chief Wayne Balcaen speaks during the unveiling of service's armoured response vehicle last year. (File)

Brandon Police Service Chief Wayne Balcaen speaks during the unveiling of service's armoured response vehicle last year. (File)

"I liken this to any other piece of equipment," Balcaen said.

"I would rather have it available and not use it and make sure that it’s there to protect our police officers. Very similar to a fire apparatus, like a ladder truck or something like that, it might only be used a few times a year, but when we need it is it’s there to protect the citizens."

The RCMP recently used a similar tactical vehicle during an incident near Onanole earlier in July. Officers used it to breach the door of a house where a man was allegedly inside with guns. The man had a self-inflicted injury, but officers were able to provide first aid.

"It’s cases like that that show the value of what it can be used for to assist people," Balcaen said.

Despite this, Schneider said armoured vehicles are still a "hard sell" to the public, especially given the recent protests over police brutality across Canada and in the United States.

"The public has not been happy, generally speaking, with the militarization of the police. … I find it puzzling, given that has been the conversation for six years publicly amongst communities that police services would continue along the path of appearing to become more militarized, and this armoured vehicle is certainly a symbol of that."

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen was not available for an interview on Tuesday, but sent a statement about the armoured vehicle via email.

"The armoured rescue vehicle is a valuable asset to enhance public safety not only in the City of Brandon, but other communities in Westman and across southern Manitoba," Cullen wrote. "While it is housed with the Brandon Police Service, the vehicle is available for use by police services across western and southern Manitoba.

"It’s critical to note this equipment is an additional tool to ensure the safety of the public and police officers. Our government is committed to enhancing public safety for all Manitobans, and we are also committed to doing our part to ensure officers can go home after work to their loved ones. It’s also worth noting this equipment was purchased through Criminal Property Forfeiture and Federal Proceeds of Crime funds, not by Manitoba taxpayers."

While the vehicle is available to jurisdictions outside Brandon, the Sun is not aware of it having been deployed outside of Brandon.

The Winnipeg Police Service also has an ARV, which was purchased in 2015 for $342,800. According to the CBC, it was deployed 78 times in 2018, including for 34 tactical unit deployments and 21 warrant executions.

» dmay@brandonsun.com and cslark@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @DrewMay_ and @ColinSlark

 

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