Whether it’s the auctioning of police light bars or the availability of official RCMP decals, people familiar with the public trade in police gear say it’s time to crack down on the potentially dangerous practice.
Their comments come after the RCMP revealed further details this week about how a Nova Scotia man acquired four former police vehicles at auctions, then used one of them in a murderous rampage across the province.
The killer had carefully painted and added flashing lights to one of the vehicles, which helped him escape the rural community of Portapique on April 18 after taking the lives of his first 13 victims.
After evading police and avoiding interception, Gabriel Wortman, 51, went on to kill nine more people the next day before officers shot and killed him.
David Giles, vice president of All EV Canada, an electric vehicle service and sales company, says during his 30-year career as an auto technician he’s often seen used police gear and decals for sale at auctions.
Giles, a frequent Crown expert witness on automotive issues, says police should end the practice of selling the gear to the highest bidders.
“I think those items should be restricted. They shouldn’t fall into the general public’s hands,” he said in an interview.
Giles provided internet links to light bars from decommissioned police vehicles being sold at recent public auctions in the Halifax area.
He also sent a link to a federal government procurement site, where the specifications for how to manufacture RCMP decals are available for the general public to view — a practice he said should be kept more confidential.
A review of recently sold items on www.GCSurplus.ca, which is managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada, shows dozens of police cars were purchased between November 2018 and February 2019.
Prices ranged from $1,150 for a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria to $31,200 for a five-speed 2018 Dodge Charger.
While these sales are permitted, it is explicitly illegal under the federal Criminal Code for anyone to use them to impersonate a police officer.
However, provincial legislation doesn’t always explicitly prohibit ordinary citizens from owning items such as the distinctive light bars of police vehicles, with their flashing red lights.
For example, in Nova Scotia, Section 179 of the Motor Vehicle Act prohibits people from moving on a highway with the flashing lights — but doesn’t explicitly prohibit owning the light bars.
Police unions and associations say it’s time to tighten up those rules in light of the potential dangers that the Nova Scotia gunman’s actions demonstrated.
“There’s a lot of merit in having some very good, robust provincial regulations around the sale and possession and use of police equipment,” Tom Stamatakis, the president of the Canadian Police Association, said in an interview.
Stamatakis said the original intent of provincial regulations was simply to prohibit the public ownership of items such as light bars.
“Unfortunately there have been many people who have argued that non-law enforcement personnel should have access to equipment,” he said.
“The definitions of some of those regulations have been extended unnecessarily.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Wednesday he is sure that recommendations on the resale of police items will emerge as a result of the police investigation into the killings.
“Not only here in Nova Scotia but I’m sure nationally they’ll be looking at how do we address the issue of surplus equipment from law enforcement agencies across the country,” he said.
Dean Goodine, a film property manager in Summerland, B.C., said in an interview that police vehicles used in movies are tightly regulated.
The replica vehicles are approved by police lawyers, and after completion the painted vehicles are returned to the RCMP and the graphics are destroyed, said Goodine.
He said production teams can purchase items from special prop stores, but those aren’t open to the general public.
“However, it’s astonishing to me what’s available at public auction,” he added.
In addition, he noted the painting of the vehicle wouldn’t be overly difficult.
“It’s quite easy now for anybody who had money and access to printers. You could go online and find every conceivable thing you need to do this,” Goodine said.
Police in Ontario are investigating two incidents of officer impersonation in recent weeks.
Provincial police are looking for a suspect after a woman in Lakeshore was pulled over by a vehicle with red and blue flashing lights and approached by a man wearing what appeared to be a police uniform last Thursday.
In Wellington County, Ont., a 25-year-old man was charged with impersonating a peace officer last week in relation to an incident on April 17 — the day before Wortman began his rampage in Nova Scotia.
Investigators say a family was riding their bikes in Puslinch, about 80 kilometres southwest of Toronto, when they were stopped by what appeared to be an unmarked police vehicle.
Police say the SUV was equipped with a push bumper and flashing lights, and the driver could be heard yelling over a public address system.
— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax.
Michael Tutton and Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press