Were two young police officers acting out parts in a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry film or were they simply caught up in a split second life or death decision?
That’s the question posed in a Winnipeg Free Press article written by Bruce Owen as final arguments were made in the trial of Winnipeg Police Constables Darrel Selley & Kristopher Overwater.
Selley & Overwater stand accused of attempt murder, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, criminal negligence, fabricating evidence and more.
The case revolves around the July 2007 shooting of habitual offender Kristofer Fournier who led the officers on a high-speed chase in a stolen vehicle loaded with a stash of illicit drugs. The decision now sits in the hands of the jury.
Before we go any further you should know that I had no involvement in the investigation nor do I recall ever meeting either officer. What I know comes from media accounts just like everybody else. As such, I resist the temptation to come to any conclusion regarding the officers guilt or innocence.
What I do have is a degree of unique experience that may offer some insight into an organization that is less than transparent to people on the “outside”. Part of my job function as Homicide Unit Supervisor was to conduct detailed reviews and analysis of Police Officer Involved Shootings. These reviews included cases where suspects were shot at, shot & wounded and shot and killed.
Part of the review process included a requirement to analyze the case regarding the need to amend or adapt policy to address any gaps in training or procedure. As I reviewed the initial media accounts I was struck by a paragraph that spoke volumes to me. It was contained in a report by Mike McIntyre & Gabrielle Giroday written in 2009.
“The pair – both six-year members of the force - were arrested Thursday following an extensive internal investigation by the professional standards unit and consultation with Manitoba Justice officers and a private legal counsel.”
There it was, in black and white, one of the primary reasons these officers find themselves in the quandary they are in. In two words – inexperience and training.
Regardless of guilt or innocence, would either officer stand accused of these serious crimes if Police Service policies and procedures were designed to take officers safety, training and overall development into account?
I personally witnessed dramatic changes in the evolution of Policing over the last twenty-six (26) years of my career in law enforcement. Police Officer respect is at an all time low, offenders rights trump the rights of victims and the revolving doors of Justice continue to increasingly spin out of control. When I applied for the Police Service in 1987 I competed against over 1,200 applicants. Recruit class applicant numbers have steadily declined and now average in the mere hundreds.
Police Officer retention has become a major problem for the Winnipeg Police Service. Retirements and attrition have an undeniable effect on the Organization. Recruit class sizes have doubled and the training period has been dramatically condensed.
One of the integral parts of the training program is the Field Training Officer component. This training provides recruits their first exposure to the City of Winnipeg’s crime ridden streets. During this phase the recruit is partnered with a Field Training Officer to mentor and guide them. You would expect the Police Service to do everything in their power to attract top-notch, highly motivated, street smart officers to fill this role.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true.
The Field Training Officer is faced with excessive administrative work, tedious policy & procedures and significantly more responsibility for which they are provided very little in the way of meaningful compensation. As a result, the calibre and quality of the Field Training Officer is compromised.
The situation doesn’t improve once the recruit graduates from the Police Academy.
When I graduated from the Police Academy in 1987 I was assigned to walk the beat with one of my fellow classmates. After a few months we were assigned to work a cruiser car together in the seedy, crime ridden Main Street Hotel zone.
During the next three years we found ourselves in extremely dangerous, high risk situations that included high-speed chases and armed confrontations. Although we managed to survive it, I often question the wisdom of having junior, inexperienced officers work together in such a high risk, unforgiving profession.
Had Selley or Overwater been in that cruiser car with a seasoned veteran I highly doubt they’d be standing trial for attempt murder or anything else for that matter.
Nothing tempers adrenaline and youthful exuberance more than the influence of a grizzled, battle tested veteran.
Unfortunately, Police management has continually demonstrated a complete lack of value and respect for experienced Police Officers. I witnessed and experienced it myself. Experience is undoubtedly the most undervalued commodity in the Organization, a culture that needs to change.
Police management has been playing a game of Russian roulette with inexperienced Officers for more than two decades now and those chickens have finally come home to roost.
I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of these types of incidents.
The WPS Executive Management Team continues to struggle to retain experience on the front lines, a situation they recently tried to resolve with the implementation of an ineffective, easily manipulated transfer policy built on principles they rarely adhere to.
I’m not suggesting that Police Management should be on trial along side of these officers, but it doesn’t take much imagination to come to the conclusion they bear some responsibility in creating the conditions for this type of situation to occur.
What I do know is this; when Police Officer’s like Selley & Overwater strap on their boots to start their shift, they don’t envision themselves shooting innocent people or being criminally negligent in the execution of their duties. They come to the job with the best of intentions, to serve and protect and to make a difference in their community.
Inexperience, lack of proper training, tunnel vision and adrenaline overload have a way of having an impact on even the best of intentions.
I’ve been in those car chases, kicked in those doors and had my share of armed confrontations. A massive adrenaline rush is something that has to be experienced and can never be fully explained.
Common effects of an adrenaline rush include; time distortion, depth perception & visual distortion, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, pain tolerance, speed and strength increase, fine motor movement decay, changes in blood flow & heart rate, changes in respiratory rate, unconscious muscle tension, mono-emotion & emotional detachment and loss of bladder/bowel control.
The effects of an adrenaline rush do not excuse post incident manipulation of the facts or the fabrication of evidence.
As an objective investigator I would advise people to look at the one thing they can trust, the physical evidence. They don’t have to believe Selley, Overwater or Fournier. Trust the evidence and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
In the end, if Selley & Overwater are guilty of the charges before the courts then it would be my hope that justice would be served and they’d be appropriately punished.
Guilty or not, was it bad cops or bad policy that got us here.
Feb 8th 2013 – 5:30 pm
Jury just came back with verdict……both officers Not Guilty to all counts!!!