The most heartening finding in the Mayerthorpe inquiry report is that the four young officers murdered by James Roszko cannot be faulted for how they performed their duties on that tragic morning of March 3, 2005.
The most heart-rending finding is how two other young men, self-serving cowards, let the deaths of Brock Myrol, Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston and Peter Schiemann unfold.
Judge Daniel Pahl, assistant chief justice of the Alberta provincial court, has provided a valuable public service in his Public Fatality Report into the murders of the four Mounties and Roszko’s subsequent suicide death.
His key conclusions offer comfort to the bereaved relatives of the four slain officers.
“I find that there were no failings in the training, experience or abilities of the officers who lost their lives,” Judge Pahl wrote.
“I am satisfied that the RCMP acted appropriately in all circumstances as they knew them,” he added.
What the young officers did not know, and could not have reasonably foreseen, was that Roszko — armed and dangerous — was returning to the property he had fled the previous afternoon to prevent his expensive truck from being seized by bailiffs for non-payment.
Until that fateful morning, it was an axiom among police officers — not just the young men slain by Roszko and not just RCMP or Canadian police forces — that, having fled, thugs do not return to the scene of their crimes.
“The prospect of Roszko returning with serious criminal intentions, assisted by unknown third parties who were not prepared to warn the police was, I find, beyond reasonable consideration,” Pahl wrote.
The unknown third parties were Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman, brothers-in-law who knew something about Roszko’s plan to return to his property, armed and dangerous.
Hennessey worked with Roszko in the marijuana grow-op that the police discovered in his Quonset hut the previous day.
Hennessey supplied bullets and the rifle — licensed to his grandfather — that Roszko carried back to his property.
Cheeseman suggested calling police to warn them about Roszko’s whereabouts and intentions. Hennessey, the older and supposedly smarter of the two, overruled him, saying Roszko might then come after them.
Four young officers would likely still be alive, while Hennessey and Cheeseman would not be in jail today for manslaughter if they had been braver on that fateful March morning six years ago.
Other police officers and their families may be spared similar tragic fates if their political masters commit more resources to equipping and training them.
In advance of Pahl’s inquiry report, RCMP training has been reviewed and enhanced.
According to people high in the justice system, however, RCMP officers are not nearly as well trained to bring thugs to justice as their counterparts in municipal forces from Calgary and Edmonton.
Rod Knecht, the senior deputy commander of the RCMP, who headed the Alberta division at the time of the Mayerthorpe murders, said the force is now providing more hard body armour to detachments across Canada.
Six years after the crime, that seems awfully slow off the mark.
Admittedly, there are limitations to this equipment. It’s heavy and hot. Most officers prefer the soft-body protection that’s not as safe but is less cumbersome.
Even if it’s not suitable for routine patrols, the heavier equipment should always be available for high-risk takedowns like the one in Mayerthorpe.
It’s popular enough among American and other armed forces that there’s now a three-year wait for new orders.
Whatever the true costs, more and better-trained police officers with better equipment should be a much higher priority than newer and bigger jails to rehabilitate more convicts, who are overwhelmingly non-violent.
Politicians love new buildings, which create construction jobs.
Politicians can put up big billboards outside the construction sites, showing where your tax money is going.
When those buildings are complete, politicians can also have their pictures taken for future campaign brochures, cutting a big red ribbon.
RCMP honour guards sometimes attend these events.
Constables Myrol, Gordon, Johnston and Schiemann will never again attend such events.
Their fates should be kept at the forefront in protecting their colleagues and deciding where our tax dollars can best be spent.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.