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‘Very, very concerning’: Criminologist reacts to police uniforms in Alberta going missing

Click to play video: 'Alberta police issue warning after multiple uniforms stolen' Alberta police issue warning after multiple uniforms stolen
Alberta police are issuing a warning to the public after multiple uniforms were stolen. While no guns were taken, experts are still calling what was a weapon. Breanna Karstens-Smith speaks with one woman who knows the dangerous possibilities first hand – Oct 4, 2021

Over the weekend, numerous pieces of RCMP-issued gear — including soft body armour, jackets and bags — were stolen from a northwest Calgary home along with an Edmonton Police Service hat and dress uniform.

Calgary police investigators managed to recover some of the items reported stolen but many still remain in the hands of thieves.

Darryl Davies, a criminology professor at Carleton University, called the theft “a red flag” and said it is time for provinces to step up their legislation surrounding police-issued uniforms and gear.

Read more: RCMP, Edmonton police uniforms stolen from Calgary home

Pointing to the deadly massacre that took place in Portapique, N.S., on April 18, 2020, Davies said Nova Scotia’s government introduced restrictions on access to used police gear. It’s something he believes all provinces should enact in some way in order to hold those who keep gear accountable.

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“It’s very, very rare that anybody would ever do what that chap, for example, in Nova Scotia did in Portapique,” Davies said.

“It’s just, I think what happened… (in) that particular incident drove home the fact that there are people who will in fact impersonate police officers.

“The fact (of what) happened in Portapique and the significant impact that that had on so many lives is why the provincial government of Nova Scotia stepped up to pass legislation that they call the Police Identity Management Act. And that was established to make sure that anybody who created, sold or owned police hardware, and then used it for the purpose of committing an offence, could be punishable up to a $10,000 fine and three months in jail.”

Read more: Nova Scotia to restrict possession of police gear almost year after mass shooting

Davies said on top of what is already stated in the provincial policing service agreements, the use of uniforms and gear should also be addressed within the Criminal Code of Canada in order to prevent the possibility of another deadly outcome.

“When someone actually commits an offence and steals these items, you can rest assured that the purpose for doing that is for the commission of a criminal offence at some point in the future,” he said. “And using this paraphernalia — like for example, RCMP bodycameras or the body armour — I mean, all the items listed that have been stolen indicates that these people intend to use them to commit crimes and impersonate police officers.

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“So I think, from the Alberta government and all governments, we should follow suit and do what the provincial government did in Nova Scotia, because that legislation has far-reaching implications for anybody that plans on using RCMP paraphernalia, uniforms (or) whatever to impersonate a police officer.”

Although it is quite common for retired members of the force to keep their uniform as a reminder of the time they have served, Davies said he thinks there has always been a rule that clothing or equipment be “disabled or not usable” in any sort of public situation.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia RCMP set surplus gear ablaze nearly a year after mass shooting' Nova Scotia RCMP set surplus gear ablaze nearly a year after mass shooting
Nova Scotia RCMP set surplus gear ablaze nearly a year after mass shooting – Mar 10, 2021

What’s the reason thieves are stealing police uniforms

Davies said replicas are not as hard to come by as some may think.

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Right now, in the RCMP Heritage Centre online store, a person can purchase ballcaps, sweatpants and even belts with the RCMP logo on it. The availability is something Davies said has been around for years.

“One time, when the RCMP were, you know, trusted and respected by the public…. (people were) buying souvenirs depicting the RCMP logo or whatever was done in a way to symbolize Canadianism and that we had great respect for our national police service — today that sadly is not the case,” he said.

“But when someone actually commits an offence and steals these items, you can rest assured that the purpose for doing that is for the commission of a criminal offence at some point in the future.

“(That is) very, very concerning.”

Family member of Portapique massacre victims reacts to theft of uniforms

Tammy Oliver-McCurdie lost her sister Jolene Oliver, her niece Emily Tuck and her brother-in-law, Aaron (Friar) Tuck to the deadly massacre in Nova Scotia last year in which a man impersonating a police officer killed 22 people and three others.

On Monday, she said that when she heard about the missing uniforms in Alberta, she wondered how somebody was able to access them.

She said the silver lining about the news of the theft is that at least the public is aware these items are missing and also has been warned that somebody “could be walking around in the police uniforms” – something that people in Nova Scotia weren’t aware of during the 2020 massacre.

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“I think, no, I know my brother-in-law wouldn’t have so readily opened the door if it was somebody else,” Oliver-McCurdie said.

“He would have been more cautious. But it was a police officer, so he wasn’t prepared.

“You know, you let your guard down because it was a police officer at the door. That’s not the case for me and my family who are still living nowadays, (because) even just seeing an RCMP officer just brings that (memory) back.

“Or seeing (an RCMP) vehicle because (the shooter) brought the vehicle, he parked it in my family’s driveway, and so you think, the vehicle, the uniform – all that together – you think officer, right? And not somebody impersonating.”

Oliver-McCurdie said she is aware of the collector market Davies mentioned and how some find interest in keeping these items after their time in the force. However, she said it puzzles her as to how these markets can still exist after such a high-profile event in Canadian history like the killings in Nova Scotia.

READ MORE: New timeline shows what RCMP knew – and didn’t share – about the Nova Scotia shooting spree 

“Anybody can buy any of these items, they don’t have to be registered like a gun owner,” she said. “You don’t have to go through police checks. Anybody can just walk in and buy this stuff.

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“So where is the system’s management on that end of it, right? … We need better solutions for those kinds of things.”

Oliver-McCurdie said it is not just murder she is worried about if police-issued gear was to be out in the public, but other scenarios that she has heard of where people have used an officer’s uniform to “lure” others in for their personal benefit.

As it’s been 17 months since she lost her family members, Oliver-McCurdie said she continues to have more questions than answers as the case is still being combed through. She also said she feels as though “nothing has been learned” and that little to no changes have been made since that tragic day in April 2020.

— With files from Breanna Karstens-Smith, Global News

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