Share this story
Would Rod Lazenby be alive today if he had been armed when he went to a Calgary-area ranch to investigate a complaint of an unpermitted kennel?
Those who think that all peace officers should carry guns believe so.
Lazenby’s widow, Lolita Lazenby, believes her husband would have been in less peril if he travelled with a partner.
And Wildrose Party justice critic Shayne Saskiw says Alberta needs more peace officers, and that they should be armed.
The American mindset, as expressed recently by a Kalamazoo, Mich., police officer who visited Calgary, is that every member of Alberta society should have the opportunity to carry handguns.
That, said Walt Wawra in a letter to the Calgary Herald, would be the great equalizer, forcing the more aggressive members of our society to think twice before harming or even threatening others.
(The evidence of repeated gun-related killings in the United States shows the fallacy of Wawra’s premise, but we’ll leave that for another day.)
Lazenby worked for the Municipal District of Foothills and was responding to a complaint related to a dog operation near Priddis, west of Calgary, on Friday.
The details about what happened to Lazenby are sketchy, but this much is known: he responded to a complaint, he went there alone and unarmed, he was dropped off at a Calgary police station some time later, and he subsequently died.
A 46-year-old man, Trevor Kloschinsky, faces first-degree murder charges in relation to Lazenby’s death.
His death is senseless, needless and infuriating for the average Albertan. The killing suggests a lack of respect for authority, and disregard for the sanctity of life, that is difficult to fathom.
But how do we prevent similar deaths in the future?
Economics suggest, obviously, that arming all peace officers is cheaper than hiring more staff. And it would lead to more efficiency than simply pairing up all those who now enforce bylaws for municipalities across Alberta.
But when it comes to public safety, and the safety of those entrusted to ensure public safety, money should not be the deciding factor. If hiring and training more officers would make them safer on the job, and is consistent with our perspective on minimal use of firearms, then so be it.
In Alberta, Level 1 peace officers carry batons and pepper spray. Level 2 officers, like Lazenby, are unarmed.
Whether any officer, with a handgun, pepper spray, or completely unarmed, could have survived this encounter is up for speculation. But Lazenby’s years of service and his experience suggest that weapons alone might not have been enough.
Lazenby was a former RCMP officer who had more than 30 years of policing experience.
He certainly understood the dangers associated with policing, and had the training to manage risk. Standard policy tells officers to remove themselves from threatening situations.
Not every peace officer, obviously, is as well trained as Lazenby was.
And certainly every peace officer, at all levels in Alberta, should receive the training and gain the knowledge necessary to anticipate, recognize and deal with potentially violent situations.
But the inquiry into Lazenby’s death ordered by Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Dennis should do more than just assess risk and determine best practices in the future.
It should examine why we employ peace officers, how they can best be managed, and whether, over time, we need to find better alternatives.
Perhaps, for example, it is time to have a single tier of peace officers in Alberta, capable of handling all policing duties.
And perhaps it’s time they were all employed under a single provincial police banner.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.