The head of Saskatchewan RCMP is defending the decision not to chase a stolen truck involved in a fatal collision Friday near Lloydminster.
On Tuesday, Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki told Gormley that, first and foremost, he wanted to extend condolences to the families of three Liberian-Canadian women killed in the crash on Highway 16 as they travelled from their home city of Edmonton.
“We sadly know that this was a real tragedy and our hearts do go out to the families of the victims, and the Liberian community in Edmonton and others who are grieving this terrible loss,” Zablocki said.
RCMP officers had been following the truck, but were ordered to pull back about half an hour before Friday’s crash.
The decision to call off the chase has since been criticized in a widely shared social media post by an acreage owner who witnessed the start of the pursuit.
Zablocki said RCMP are in a difficult position when it comes to chasing suspects. Let up, and there’s a chance a suspect could subsequently be involved in worse crimes or pursue, and there’s a chance a suspect, or officers themselves, could put the public at greater risk.
“We know that motor vehicle pursuits are inherently high-risk. We know that every time we initiate a pursuit, we put the public at risk,” he said.
In the end, Zablocki said the decision is taken out of frontline officers’ hands.
Any pursuit is monitored by a senior officer in the command centre who has the final say on whether a chase continues. Those officers are bound by nationwide RCMP policy on when to pursue suspects.
Zablocki said those national rules come out of hard lessons learned in the wake of tragedies in years past.
“We have been in that situation in the past. Not necessarily in this division, or this province, but elsewhere in the country where we have been in pursuit and unfortunate and tragic circumstances have resulted,” he said.
Zablocki said the decision on whether or not to chase a suspect rests mainly on the severity of the suspected offence and the level of danger to the public. So, for instance, a situation involving a firearm or an abduction would warrant an elevated response, while a call of a stolen vehicle wouldn’t normally justify a pursuit.
Police reported previously a 26-year-old man had been arrested in connection to Friday’s crash and that charges were pending.
Suspects generally aren’t identified until they have their charges formally read to them in court, unless they are the subject of a police manhunt.
Zablocki said investigators were still working to determine exactly what happened Friday and had no update on when the suspect might be charged.