What the public demands of police/intel investigations vs reality

Well, the knives are out already.  As we learn more and more about the harrowing history of murders in Toronto’s LGBT community over a number of years, but before all the facts are in, many people are already convinced that the local police screwed up.  There are even calls for a public inquiry or even a coroner’s inquest into how law enforcement was unable to stop these crimes before far too many victims died.

What is driving this demand is the news that Toronto Police had interviewed the suspected killer, Bruce McArthur, years ago but only arrested him a few weeks ago, thus allowing to continue his barbarous homicidal spree against local gays.  Many want to know what the police knew about Mr. McArthur back then and why he was let go.  There are already op-eds implying police incompetence.

I was not born yesterday.  I know that some believe, and perhaps with good reason on occasion, that some police forces in some jurisdictions have inbred biases against certain communities (First Nations, LGBT) and are perceived as not having performed their duties to the best of their abilities.  If these charges are true then everyone should support, nay demand, that the necessary officers be held to account and that the necessary changes be made.  We expect nothing less in a liberal secular democracy run by the rule of law and one in which everyone is treated equally and fairly.

From my perspective, however, two things are clear so far.  First, we have no idea what the police knew about the suspect when they first brought him in and until we do it is pointless, and unjust, to allege misconduct or ineptitude.  We have to wait for details to emerge.

Secondly, the public’s jumping to conclusions demonstrates that it knows little about how investigations are done.  There is seldom an ‘aha!’ moment where police officers, or intelligence operators, have enough information on which to draw solid conclusions.  There are always gaps in data and times where no matter how long authorities elect to continue their efforts they will never have the full story.  It is highly possible, then, that Toronto Police simply did not have enough to go on after their first attempt to interview Mr. McArthur and did not have the grounds to hold him any longer or charge him at the time.

The decision to let him go underpins one of the pre-eminent legal and moral foundations of our society.  We do not tolerate indefinite detention in Canada, unlike other countries (such as Syria).  If our state institutions cannot make a strong enough case to justify continued incarceration, which is a serious violation of everyone’s right to liberty, they have no recourse but to release their suspect.  Should more evidence or suspicion arise, those same authorities have the right to bring the individual in and, when warranted, lay charges.  That appears to be what TPS has done.

Monday morning quarterbacking is seldom a respectable practice.  Nor is the litany of catcalls from the peanut gallery by many individuals, most of whom have no experience in law enforcement or security intelligence and hence little grounds for their ill-informed comments.  If mistakes were made it is hoped that these will surface soon so that the requisite action can be taken to minimise future mistakes.  We simply do not know yet what went wrong, if anything.

They often say that hindsight is 20-20.  I for one would like a little less hindsight.  Foresight, if it is even possible, would be nice.  Me, I’d settle for better insight.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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