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PPSC In The News

By Stephane Massinon, Calgary Herald
April 26, 2011 7:29 PM

Almost 12 years after the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man in a Pincher Creek RCMP cellblock, the Mounties are still in the process of updating their facilities.

A fatality inquiry report released Tuesday into the October 1999 shooting of Darren John Varley at the hands of RCMP Const. Michael Ferguson made numerous recommendations on police procedures when they take someone into custody.

Varley was arrested for public intoxication before a scuffle in the cell that led to him being shot twice.

The report recommends that all RCMP detachments have lockboxes for securing firearms and video surveillance cameras. Pincher Creek did not have either at the time and Ferguson claimed Varley tried to reach for his weapon.Lockboxes have been standard in new detachments since 2003.

“Some older detachments may not have them, but a directive has been issued to make sure they are installed in all detachments,” said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Taniguchi

Sixty-nine of 110 detachments in Alberta now have video surveillance. They are being implemented over time to spread out their cost.

Inquiry Judge Derek Redman also recommended that RCMP firearms be secured before a prisoner is removed from a police vehicle or handcuffs are removed. He also said that prisoner processing areas should be firearms-free unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Redman also recommended that handcuffs not be removed from a combative prisoner until he or she displays rational behaviour, that RCMP officers receive better training on the limitations of their holsters, that the Mounties develop a policy on the position of jail guards and that complaints against RCMP members be investigated promptly and thoroughly.

In a statement, RCMP officials said they are acting on all recommendations.

“While nothing can change what happened 11 years ago, the RCMP hopes that this report will bring some sense of closure to the Varley family,” said Assistant Commissioner Marianne Ryan, criminal operations officer of the force’s Alberta-based K Division.

“I want to assure the Varley family — and all Canadians — that the RCMP has made significant changes over the past decade to prevent this sort of profoundly sad circumstance from happening again,” said Ryan.

The Mounties say they now have a system in place to “identify, track and monitor and hold accountable” employees with behavioural issues.

Ferguson had numerous complaints against him before the shooting. For instance, he once threatened another officer, saying, “You’re lucky you’re a woman or I would deck you,” after an argument. In another case, he bodychecked a basketball referee after a game while off-duty.

Independent policing expert Thomas Aveni, who testified during the inquiry, said the officer’s issues should have been better treated.

“It seemed like what few corrective actions were taken late and they were ineffectual,” said Aveni.

In his report, Aveni recommended the lockboxes as well as better-trained and younger jail guards. He said the force preferred hiring seniors to pay them less.

“Their position was that they can’t afford to hire the type of people they should be hiring,” he said.

Instead, he said guard jobs should be treated as segues into law enforcement positions for younger adults.

He did, however, praise the national police force after seeing how they had changed their practices after the shooting.

“We found them up to, commensurate with, the best policy models we found anywhere,” said Aveni, executive director of the Police Policy Studies Council.

Ferguson was convicted in 2004 of manslaughter in the shooting death after two previous trials ended in hung juries. He was paroled in 2006.

The officer did not testify at the fatality inquiry because of his depression.

He retired from the force once convicted.