HALIFAX — The public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting learned Wednesday that police training in Finland far exceeds RCMP levels, as experts call for major reforms to RCMP training.
Kimmo Himberg, who retired last year as rector of the National Police University College in Finland, told the commission that every officer had at least three years of university training before being drafted into the force that keeps peace in the nation of about 5.5 million people.
The former police officer provided the description during a panel discussion on police critical incident preparedness, which is part of the investigation into the April 18-19, 2020 killings of 22 people by a gunman.
The inquest heard criticism of the RCMP’s performance on issues such as confusion over who was commanding the response, the inability to open aerial mapping showing potential escape routes and the inability to issue timely warnings to the general public.
Himberg said he believed the minimum three years of university-level specialist police training in Finland had become essential to the high level of public trust in his country’s service and improved public safety research.
“In Finland, national trust in the police force is, by international measures, the highest in the world,” he said, also citing the Finnish Interior Ministry’s 2020 survey which indicated that 91% of respondents trusted the police “a lot or a fair amount.”
The Finnish university curriculum includes a lot of theoretical content, he said, “and we put a special emphasis on values and attitudes in education.”
To date, most officers involved in the mass shooting have described their basic training as the 26 weeks at the RCMP Academy in Regina, commonly referred to as “Depot.” Some also said they took additional weeks-long courses to qualify for specialist roles.
The retired Finnish educator did not comment on the Nova Scotia mass shooting during the discussion, but several former police officers have said in interviews with The Canadian Press that they believe the gaps in the response to police say Canada needs to move to a more thorough and consistent approach. education system for all officers.
David Cassels, who served as Winnipeg’s police chief during his 30-year career, said in an interview Wednesday that “police officers need much broader education and training to help them do in the face of today’s complex problems”.
Cassels, who is the volunteer chair of the recently formed Coalition for Canadian Police Reform, urges the creation of a “professional police college” similar to those that exist for doctors and nurses, to establish police training standards that could mean recruits spend around two years studying police skills.
“Most of what is taught in (RCMP) Depot and all other basic police training institutions…is traditional, firearms, driving, marching, legislation, politics, control tactics,” he said. he stated in a follow-up email.
“All of the issues the Mass Casualty Commission hears about today – high risk incident command, debriefings and critical incident response are not taught to most operational police officers.” Expanding education and including standards for responding to mass casualty events would improve responses, “and in fact could prevent the loss of significant lives,” he wrote.
Scott Blandford, a former police officer from London, Ont., said in an interview Wednesday that he believes Canadian governments need to define “a set of skills” for all police officers, which would translate into higher levels of police training before they’re hired.
The assistant professor of public safety at Wilfrid Laurier University said that could mean a blended model where there is an academic component to training – taught at universities and colleges – as well as apprenticeships with police forces.
He said he views the RCMP as a “military, line-based organization that is strong on command and control,” with a tendency to promote officers based on years of service rather than skill.
He also said he believes the corporate culture of the RCMP does not encompass education outside of their own institutions.
However, Supt. Wallace Gossen, a York Regional Police constable, told the roundtable that the Canadian Police College has made progress in teaching common approaches to responding to critical incidents to police officers across the country.
Gossen, who teaches classes to train critical incident commanders, said he had a checklist he developed to help deal with the stress that unfolds during crises.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 1, 2022.