TEN ($10) BUCKS – The Value of Human Life in Winnipeg

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I’ve often heard people say that you can’t put a value on the price of a human life.

Not so in the City of Winnipeg it seems.

Depending on what part of the City you live in the going rate can be as low as ten ($10) bucks.

That was the reality regarding a senseless North End killing that occurred on Friday, August 27th, 2010.

The call came in to 911 at 1:55 am.

I was notified by the Duty Office just after 2:00 am, woken from a deep slumber after only a couple of hours of sleep.

It’s the worst kind of call a Homicide Supervisor can get, knowing that you are going to be working for a minimum of twenty-four (24) hours after virtually no sleep.

Sleep deprivation was a very difficult part of the job, you never really got used to it, you just accept it and learn how to function in spite of it.

Once I arrived at the Public Safety Building I would debrief a dozen or more Uniform Patrol Officers and would learn that the murder victim was identified as Derek Robert Spence, a twenty-four year old North End resident who had suffered a single stab wound to his chest.

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Murder Victim Derek Robert Spence

Unfortunately for Derek, it was a “money shot.”

The knife lacerated the left ventricle of his heart causing a catastrophic, fatal injury.

Within half an hour of the incident Spence would be pronounced deceased.

Now it was my job to run an investigation designed to learn the identity of the killer so that “justice” might be served.

As the Homicide Detectives started to roll in, I had a good working knowledge of what had transpired based on the information gleaned from debriefing the uniform officers.

As fate would have it, the case would turn out to be another typical senseless Winnipeg killing.

After getting ripped off of ten ($10) dollars in a street confrontation, the victim rallied the assistance of several of his friends who he led to a residence on Manitoba Ave in his ill-fated quest to recover his money.

During the confrontation that followed, Spence came face to face with his killer, Leonard Leslie Murdock, a twenty-three (23) street thug who had been around the block a time or two.

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Leonard Leslie Murdock – Convicted Killer

Witnesses reported that when the combatants squared off, Spence was surprised to see that Murdock had brandished a “shank”.

“What are you going to do, stab me for $10” Spence asked Murdock.

The answer came in the form of a quick forward plunging motion.

“Oh fuck, he stabbed me, I’m hurt” were the last words that would ever come out of the victim’s mouth.

Just over twenty-four hours (24) hours later, the hard work of the investigators paid off.  Leonard Murdock was identified as the killer and was subsequently charged & detained at the Provincial Remand Center.

He would eventually be tried on charges of second degree murder.

As I recall, it was around twenty-seven and a half (27 1/2) hours after the original call came in that I retired from duty and headed home for some much-needed sleep.

Almost two and a half years later, the case finally made its way through our the Courts.

Murdock was recently sentenced after a jury convicted him of Manslaughter rejecting his claim that he stabbed Spence while acting in self-defense.

The Crown requested a sentence of eight (8) years in prison while the defence argued for a much lighter five (5) year shot.

To support her position, the Crown advised the Court that Murdock had no defense relative to impaired judgement as he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the killing.

The defense defaulted to the usual sentencing sob story advising the Court that Murdock had a troubled childhood that saw him spend a number of years in foster care before moving to Winnipeg at age eighteen (18).

Once he hit the streets of the City he turned to a lifestyle entrenched in the gang, drugs and crime subculture.

His lawyer told the Court “He hits the big City and it all goes very badly.  It’s highly unfortunate but not that unusual a pattern.”

Justice Diana Cameron, a former Crown Prosecutor, credited Murdock with time served and sentenced him to a further four and a half (4 1/2) year period of incarceration.

When you do the math, the sentence on paper equates to approximately seven (7) years.

A sentence that will be significantly undermined by the Parole Board.

So there you have it, a “ten dollar ($10) killing” that will ultimately merit a sentence that will be the equivalent of a “nickel” or approximately five (5) years in prison.

Is it any wonder that Winnipeg continues to be the violent crime and murder capital of Canada.

We are a desensitized culture living in an environment where people can be killed for ten bucks and do less than five years in prison for it.  Life in Winnipeg is cheap, true accountability is rare and “Justice” is a word that no longer has any meaning.

So where is the outrage?

Is the entire population of the City of Winnipeg suffering from PTSD?

Are we all completely numb to the violence and the reality of living with a broken Justice system?

Has the silent majority been reduced to a group of Winnipeg Sun poll voters who recently clicked the mouse to provide stats that indicate that 83% of us think that a seven (7) year prison sentence for this crime is inadequate?

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Winnipeg Sun Poll

It makes me wonder how far the pendulum can swing before we witness a correction.

It makes me wonder how much longer we can afford to let the silent majority remain silent.

It makes me wonder what it’s going to take to get the silent majority to wake up and take a more participatory approach to get the pendulum to swing back.

Winnipeg crime reporter James Turner recently asked the question “Are our Courts in tune with society’s reality?”

Although I thought the answer was obvious, I analyzed a recent case that should convince even the most ardent Justice supporter that the Justice system is broken and in desperate need of repair.

I have little doubt that the silent majority agrees.

In fact, I’m so confident I’d bet anyone ten ($10) bucks!

GRATITUDE – A Life Saver

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Gratitude can be a life saver.

Gratitude is defined as a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation.

Adversity is defined as adverse fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity or distress.

Pessimism is defined as a state of mind in which one anticipates undesirable outcomes or believes that the evil or hardships in life outweighs the good.

How you deal with adversity will ultimately determine the depth of your ability to feel gratitude.

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that optimism rules pessimism.

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The ability to be optimistic, to feel optimism and to find light in dark situations is the key to living a full, happy and rewarding life.

The darkest people I’ve met in my life dwell in a world of pessimism.  The pessimist mindset perpetuates feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, victimization, blaming and anger.

In doing research for this post, I searched the internet looking for definitions for words like gratitude, adversity and pessimism. I was also looking for evidence that supports one of my core beliefs that we can train our brains to perceive negative experiences as positive ones.

This search took me to blog published by journalist and writer Don Carnagey-Lanier.  After a brief tour of Dons blog I found a page devoted to his “Optimists Creed.”

Each day Don promises himself;

  • To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person I meet.
  • To make all my friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make my optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet.
  • To give so much time to improving myself that I have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
  • To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds.
  • To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side, so long as I am true to the best that is in me.

Don writes that, “To repeat something to ones self embeds the thoughts and desires in our minds and our hearts. Everyday come back and read this each morning until it is part of you. Feel it and live by it.”

If you don’t want to buy into what Don is selling then give me a few more moments of your time to provide you with evidence of less flowery optimism in action.

As many of you may know by now, I was raised in a brutally violent, uncertain household that was ruled by a physically intimidating violent man.  The violence and mental cruelty made it virtually impossible for the children raised in this environment to develop any sense of self-esteem or self-worth.  It was a painful existence that had varied impacts on the five (5) children that were raised in that battlefield.   As a young teen boy growing up in the chaos it was clear to me that I had two options;

The first, dwell in perpetual pessimistic agony, adopt the life long mentality of the victim and struggle with endless depression, anger and blame.

The second, fight through the adversity, strive to live an optimistic life and try to find the hidden “gifts.”

The hidden gifts my father gave me provided me with the tools to become a caring and loving father.  I used him as an “opposite role model.”  I promised myself to value, love and respect my wife & children and to never raise a hand to them in anger.  I promised to be a faithful husband and to put action behind the words contained in my wedding vows.  All things my father failed to do, all promises that I have kept.

I’m grateful for these gifts because I’ve seen the results of  infidelity, broken promises and failed marriage.

My father’s gifts made it possible for me to relate to offenders with similar life experiences.  These gifts helped me develop into a skilled interrogator and paved the way for dozens of confessions to high profile heinous crimes.

I am grateful for the gifts I received from divorce after a ten (10) year marriage to a person with a serious alcohol addiction.

The gifts from divorce taught me how to value my children and not take them for granted.

The gifts from my first marriage led me to AFM where I would take a course that would shine a light on all the dark places inside of me.  A course that provided me with an understanding of myself that I never had before.  A course that challenged me to “own” all of my decisions, good, bad and ugly.  A course that helped set me free from the bondage of a painful past.

These gifts provided me with tools to apply to future relationships.

These gifts also provided me with tools to be used during high stakes suspect interrogations, tools that helped me demonstrate rare insight, understanding and compassion to criminals suffering from addiction,  key elements to removing roadblocks to a successful interrogations.

I am grateful for the gifts our racist neighbor gave me and my brothers when he called us “niggers.”

These gifts opened my eyes to the reality of racism in our society.

They taught me humility and the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect.

These gifts gave me strength and understanding when people called me offensive names and accused me of racism during my career in law enforcement.

I am grateful to the people that forced me to retire from a career I once loved.

These gifts enabled me to reconnect with a family whose father worked incredible hours of overtime and missed an inordinate amount of important family functions and events.

These gifts made it possible for me to pick up the slack around the house by doing laundry, dishes and vacuuming, things that have proven to support a dedicated wife and strengthen an already strong marriage.

These gifts made it possible for me to spend an hour every day with my son at lunch time during the school week.  Five hours a week, twenty hours a month, two hundred and forty hours a year of precious time that I would never have had otherwise.

These gifts made it possible for me to do things that I never had time to do, like writing blog posts, doing home renovations, immersing myself in Spanish and music lessons.

The optimist will always be able to find “the gifts.”

My challenge to all of you is to train your brain, to take a hard look at the things you have interpreted in your life as set backs or adversity, and then challenge yourself to find the “hidden gifts.”

It’s a strategy that works for me.

Gratitude can be a life saver.

It saved mine.

Let it save yours.

LINKS:

“FREELOADING INDIANS” – A Black Eye for the PC Party

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The Conservative Party suffered a major embarrassment last week after Brayden Mazurkiewich, President of the PC Youth wing, used social media as a bully pulpit to spew his special brand of racism.

The comments were captured by Aboriginal activist Michael Champagne from Facebook posts on Mazurkiewich’s account.

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The comments started a virtual “maelstrom” of outrage from Face-bookers of all stripes who responded with threats of violence, hostility & a few racist comments of their own.

One commenter took it even farther;

“I hope he gets castrated so he can’t reproduce.”

Another comment, although more moderate, caught my attention;

“Considering children pick up their parents biases and short comings this truly shows the Conservative agenda and point of view. This is attitude the Conservatives hand down to their youth. How horribly disgusting.”

Much like violence begets violence, racism, bigotry and stereotyping does the same thing.

The person who posted the comment, while obviously intelligent, has fallen prey to the pitfall of writing off an entire group of people based on the racist rhetoric of one misguided individual.

People on both sides of the fence immersing themselves in divisive hateful comments initiated by someone holding an office with a leadership mandate.

To the PC Party’s credit, President Ryan Matthews demanded Mazurkiewich’s immediate resignation indicating that the racist comments were “detrimental to our party.”

In my respectful opinion, the words “detrimental to our party”, fall miserably short of the condemnation required.

The use of the racist term “freeloading Indians” offers us a glimpse into an uneducated, hateful, racist mind.

Studies of racist attitudes have revealed that these sentiments are often built on stereotypes, mistruths and irrational fear.

Mazurkiewich’s comments reek of a “white supremacist” ideology.

“I apologize to anyone I may have offended but at the end of the day I work very hard and I pay my taxes, and a lot of people don’t.”

Make no mistake, the “a lot of people” Mazurkiewich is referring to are the “freeloading Indians.”

Make no mistake, that was no apology!

Hence the stereotypical, irrational, mistruth at the heart of Mazurkiewich’s issue is revealed.  With a broad sweeping brush he paints all Aboriginal People as non-contributing freeloaders.

All rational people know that the reality could not be further from the truth.

To my surprise, an angle overlooked by the media and most interesting to me is the “fear” component at the heart of Mazurkiewich’s racist beliefs.

He chooses to protest against Urban Aboriginal Economic opportunity and at the same time, condemn Aboriginal People for not being tax paying industrious people.

The contradiction is obvious, you really can’t have it both ways.

I found it interesting that Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak felt it necessary to do his best to allay the fears of Winnipeg residents with his almost apologetic statement;

“Winnipegger’s need not be afraid of this court decision, First Nations leadership want nothing more than to help our people acquire employment, housing and all the opportunities afforded to other Manitoban’s.”

Aboriginal Leaders need not apologize for trying to advance their people in the Province of Manitoba, a place where their people struggle in poverty and are over represented in almost every negative aspect of our society.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely sold on the idea of Urban reserves, but I am in support of the Aboriginal Leaderships right to fight for economic opportunities and the advancement of their people.

If the First Nations leaders are successful in acquiring the land then it would be my hope that the venture becomes the model for all future Aboriginal initiatives across the Country.

The use of the term “Freeloading Indians” should really generate the same degree of social outrage and disgust that the use of the “N” word does, that is, if we want to believe we live in a socially advanced society.

It’s time for the hateful fear mongers like Mazurkiewich to open up their closed minds.

It also occurs to me that the PC Party might want to tighten up their screening process before they become the next irrelevant political party in the Province of Manitoba.

FOOTNOTE:

Blog Post featured as “Blog of the Week” in the print edition of the Winnipeg Free Press.

LINKS:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/barracks-boondoggle-a-waste-of-time-money-183614371.html

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/first-nations-1-ottawa-0-183614231.html

 

AMERICAN PSYCHOS – Killing the American Dream

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They were the shots that were heard around the world.

Twenty (20) innocent first grade students gunned down in an environment that should have been a sanctum for nurturing, learning & safety.

The all to predictable debate rages on, gun control vs second amendment rights.

President Barack Obamas remarks at Newtown High School on Sunday night expressed grief, remorse and the need for change;

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President Barack Obama

“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.”

He continued;

“But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.”

I agree with the President, something has to change.

The million dollar question is, “Will change come and what will that change look like?”

I don’t recall a time in the history of the United States that the nation has appeared to be more divided.

Political leaders locked in bitter partisan debate seemingly prepared to catapult over the fiscal cliff in their spiteful efforts to destroy the economic fabric of a once great Country.

Is it any surprise that gun control has become a divisive debate?

I’ve been watching the intensive news coverage and I’m dismayed regarding the blame game that is now being played.  Gun control, gun advocacy, the second amendment, the expulsion of God from the classroom, mental health issues and bullying are all being blamed for the mass murder phenomenon.

Many people seem to be fixated on gun control and the need to ban semi-automatic assault rifles, like the one used in the New Town murders.

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Bushmaster SemiAutomatic .223 Assault Rifle

The fixation on semi-automatic assault rifles baffles me.

I just watched Piers Morgan interview Senator Dianne Feinstein on CNN and listened with interest as she indicated that she plans on introducing strong, definitive legislation when Congress reconvenes in January that will ban over one hundred (100) military style semi-automatic assault weapons that will include prohibitions on magazines, clips, barrels and strips that hold over ten (10) rounds of ammunition.

Unless I missed something, I heard nothing about the need to ban semi-automatic hand guns, like the Glock 40 used in the Red Lake, Minnesota mass killing in 2005.  These guns can be just as deadly as semi-automatic rifles, are easily concealed and come with fifteen (15) round clips that can be reloaded in a matter of seconds.

Even if the magazines were reduced to a maximum number of ten (10) rounds, a mentally deranged goal oriented active shooter could easily carry a dozen or more magazines that could contain one hundred & twenty (120) rounds of ammunition.  One hundred & twenty (120) rounds of ammunition could translate to a significant number of casualties.

I’ve never immersed myself in the gun control debate but I do believe that semi automatic hand guns and rifles simply dont’ belong in the hands of the general public.  The problem with these weapons is that they frequently end up in the hands of criminals or end up on the black market where just about anyone can acquire them.  These weapons were designed for use by fully trained Police Officers, Security Guards and members of the Military.

On the other side of the argument, gun advocates will tell you that, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

They will also tell you that taking legal guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens is morally wrong.

Gun control laws designed to prohibit firearm possession from persons with mental health issues is a novel idea but just doesn’t work in the real world.

Gun control in the US will never be able to stop a goal oriented person from getting a gun and going on a shooting spree.

There are just too many guns out there and it’s far to easy to acquire them.

The United States of America is a Country where between 10,000 – 12,000 people are killed by guns every calendar year.

Among the worlds twenty-three (23) wealthiest Countries, 80% of all gun deaths occur in the US while 87% of all children killed by guns are American children.

These statistics are a direct result of the American love affair with firearms.  The United States of America is the most heavily armed society in the world, with an estimated ninety (90) guns per every one hundred (100) people.

When guns are prevalent, gun use is prevalent.

Guns are impersonal, cold steel objects that are easy to use and don’t require close or intimate contact with a victim.  That makes them the perfect instrument for introverted societal misfits with mental health issues who are bent on going on anger fueled killing sprees.

The question echoing from all corners of civilized society is how do we stop these horrific massacres from occurring?

Most gun advocates and Law Enforcement Officers will tell you that the only thing proven to stop a goal oriented bad guy with a gun is a goal oriented good guy (s) with a gun.

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Tactical Officers – The Only True Deterrent

There is much truth in that sentiment.

Simply put, American culture has to drastically change before we can start to minimize these mass killings.

There can be no doubt that more emphasis has to be placed on mental health protocols and people with mental health issues.

Ultimately, it can often come down to awareness and courage.

People have to recognize those among us who suffer from mental illness or who by their words or actions cause concern that they may be a risk to the public.

When we recognize these people we have to take action, whether they involve your children, husband, wife, parent or grandparent.  We can no longer afford to ignore or minimize the risk these people may present to all of us.  Mental health issues can no longer be a dirty secret that we keep stuffed away in our dirty family closets.

I was encouraged when I read an article on the web this morning written by Liza Long, a woman who has a thirteen (13) year old son with serious mental health issues.  A boy who has violent tendencies and threatens violence when his anger rages.

Liza had the courage to do the right thing, to act, to do something rather than ignore or deny the severity of the problem.  Liza recognized the need to act and initiated an intervention that included the Police and mental health professionals.

(I’ve participated in many of these types of interventions in my professional and personal life and can tell you that they are stressful, emotional and difficult……they require great courage and a strong commitment to do the right thing.)

Liza’s courage could inspire more people to act and start to change the culture of denial, silence and inaction.

That culture appears to have existed in the home of twenty (22) year old killer Adam Lanza.  A home where a young man with serious mental health issues was exposed to a large number of easily accessible semi automatic firearms.

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Nancy Lanza

That culture of denial, silence, inaction and gun lust may to turn out to be one of the central reasons why Nancy Lanza lost her life and why twenty-six (26) innocent people who included twenty (20) beautiful grade one students lost their lives.

A change in American culture, semi-automatic weapons prohibitions, & mental health initiatives could potentially contribute to a reduction in these types of crimes.

Wishful thinking, endless debate and prayer will not.

If people are looking for answers regarding safety I offer this dose of reality;

There is only one way to stop these types of mass killings from happening at our schools and that is to have tactically trained armed police officers or gate keepers placed at the exterior of tightly controlled access points.

That is the one and only guaranteed solution for the safety of our children.

The idea of having armed teachers in the classrooms is an ineffective strategy that would allow an armed intruder access to the interior of the school thereby exposing great numbers of teachers and students to unacceptable risk.

Teachers are not trained tactical officers.  Their job description should not include the need to carry firearms to protect their students.  A teachers job is to teach, that’s why they went to University to obtain degrees in Education.

Other alternatives, short of an armed deterrent, have far too many vulnerabilities to ever be effective solutions.

Mental Health issues, impediments to mental health care, a culture of denial, silence, inaction and gun lust seem to me to be the perfect recipe to kill the American dream.

In the meantime, we cry, we mourn, we hope and we fear for the next horrific mass murder.

FOOT NOTE:

A powerful message regarding active shooter intervention.  Language warning….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prS_QpGIB8Q&feature=youtube_gdata_player

POLICING – A Career Full of Nightmares!

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It’s inevitable, we all have to sleep.

Sleep is required for essential things such as body and cell repair, restoration and resurgence.

For many Police Officers, sleep can be a frightening thing.

Closing your eyes and drifting off to a peaceful sleep is simply not a reality for many officers in law enforcement.

It’s a time when Police Officers are vulnerable to the graphic images that they store in their brains after being exposed to extraordinary events by virtue of their employment.

It’s a part of the job that no one talks about.

To serve and protect can mean many things.  It can mean attending fatal traffic accident scenes, grotesque murder scenes, accidental deaths, suicides or horrific industrial accidents.

S/Sergeant J Anderlic at horrific accident scene where a teen girl was killed.

It can also mean being exposed to life & death situations that come from deadly force encounters that can scar an officer with a wide variety of graphic images.

Using deadly force can be an extremely traumatic event for a Police Officer.  Images of the suspect closing ground, staring down the barrel of an offenders gun, the light reflected from a suspects edged weapon, the split second life or death decision, the recoil of the firearm, the look on the perpetrators face as he takes his last breath combined with the intensity of taking a human life.

These incidents create imagery that can invade and infect a Police Officers mind.

If you didn’t know it, these events are all common occurrences in the City of Winnipeg.

As a recruit in field training it didn’t take long for me to experience my first traumatic incident.

It was an attempt suicide call.  A teenage girl calling 911 from a pay phone at Logan Ave and Main Street indicating that she cut herself.  After placing her in the cruiser car I asked her where she was cut.  To my shock she nonchalantly rolled up her sleeves and exposed a dozen or more extremely deep horizontal lacerations on both of her arms.  Lacerations so deep they exposed muscle tissue and bone.  Lacerations so deep they were literally oozing what seemed like gallons of thick gooey crimson blood.

I did my best to take it all in stride but I feared that the brave face I put on was going to be betrayed by the undeniable physiological changes I was experiencing, the dry throat, the intense sweating and light headedness.

As graphic as these images were, it wouldn’t take long before they would become blurred by my exposure to increasingly horrific incidents.

Like the images that would imprint on my mind from my first experience with a deceased person.  A sudden death call to a small green space off of Ellice Ave where I would find the body of a deceased man who died of natural causes related to lifestyle issues.  A disturbing sight for my innocent eyes, a lifeless body, an empty shell, limbs contorted with the effects of rigor mortis.  His name, still fresh in my mind, the fact that I can remember it twenty-five years later should tell you something.

Not long after this I would witness the passing of a man who had been shot by a Police Officer.  I was in the hospital with a robbery suspect in the emergency department at the Health Sciences Center Hospital when the man was wheeled into the resuscitation room.  I watched in stunned silence as the man became combative and then suddenly flat lined.  The intensity of the life saving attempts were overwhelming.  I was in a state of shock when I realized the man had just died in front of my eyes.  It was at this precise moment I realized that I had to get fresh air or my ass was going to be on the emergency room floor.  A few urgent gulps of fresh air and I was back.  I somehow managed to put my brave face back on and got my head back in the game.

Then there was a Downtown house fire where a one year old baby girl perished, her body scorched and blackened by heat and fire.  Tiny limbs outstretched, fists clenched in a horrific death pose.  It was a surreal scene, hysterical people all around us, and me, struggling to be professional and do my job as opposed to doing the natural thing and succumbing to the overwhelming emotion I was feeling.

Countless suicides with horrific gun shot wounds to the head, lost souls hanging by the neck from electrical cords or ropes and crumpled up disfigured bodies of victims who decided to end their lives by jumping from tall buildings.

Winnipeg Police Service Homicide Detectives attend a crime scene

The graphic images in my mind would multiply one hundred fold by virtue of an eight (8) year assignment to the Homicide Unit.

Brutal gang killings, one of which featured a crack house door man who was shot pointblank in the face with a sawed off shot gun.  Upon arrival to the scene I was stunned to see a four by four hole in the victims face and an empty cavern that was once called his head.  The stench of spent gunpowder in the air and wispy smoke still coming from the wound, brain matter on the walls and ceiling.

I saw it all, decapitations, dismemberments and disembowelments.

It wasn’t only the graphic scenes that stuck with me.

In April of 2000 I interviewed a young man named Stephen James Treller who reported his twenty year old girlfriend Cory Dawn Lepp missing.  The problem was Treller’s story started to stink.  He did his best to play a cat and mouse game with us but in the end, he broke the cardinal rule.  When you play cat and mouse, you should always know which one you are.  It turned out Treller was the mouse.  Hours later he confessed to killing Cory and agreed to lead us to the location where he had disposed of her body.

That location turned out to be the crawl space under his grandmother’s cottage in Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba, a beautiful resort town just north of the City of Winnipeg.

It was a beautiful, peaceful, sunny spring day, one of those famous Manitoba deep blue skies above, not a cloud in sight.    The town was ultra quiet, the cottagers still dwelling in the City working their 9 to 5’s.  As I walked up to the cottage my stomach was churning with nervous anticipation.  As I knelt down and shone my flashlight into the crawl space the tragic events previously described by Treller became very real.  There she was, a beautiful young girl, her face angelic looking with no signs of stress or violence.  She looked so peaceful that I just couldn’t stop staring at her, it was as if I was trying to will her to open her eyes and come to life.  That, of course, would not happen.  Treller subsequently plead guilty to murder and received a life sentence with no chance of parole for a minimum of ten (10) years.

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Cory Dawn Lepp

The images of Cory Lepp’s angelic face still visits me often.

In fact, when I close my eyes I can still see every graphic image from every tragic case I worked on.  As my nephew Tyler often tells me, “your eyes cannot “un-see” what they have seen!”

Exposure to these kinds of incidents can cause sleep disruption, sleep deprivation, eating disorders, substance or alcohol abuse and worse, the destruction of  a person’s faith in humanity.

Many of these images haunted me during the course of my career in Law Enforcement.  Thinking “happy thoughts”  is a great concept but doesn’t work so well in reality.  It takes a great deal of concentration and strategy to learn how to deal with these images.  Reliance on frequent exercise, good nutrition and retreating to the warmth and comfort of family is a good start.  Getting lost in the arms of your lover, partner or spouse is a positive pursuit.  Sharing feelings and communicating with people who care about you can help keep you from the unhealthy urge to bottle it all up inside.  Learning how to create a filing system to store these graphic images can be an effective a strategy.  Putting the images into a folder, burying them with other data and then closing that imaginary drawer, it worked for me.

If all else fails, seeking help from a qualified mental health professional should be considered.

Fear not, with a proactive approach and a little time, the images will surely start to fade.

Front Line Officers working a Homicide Scene

The images I describe are familiar to virtually every Police Officer who works or has worked a prime response cruiser car on the streets of their chosen City.

These are the reasons why Police work is unique and simply cannot be compared to most other professions.  

These are the reasons why we have to ensure that we are alert to the need to take care of the mental health of our Police Officers who are exposed to these types of critical incidents.

These are the reasons why Police Officers deserve our concern, support and respect.

Police Officers are the ones who we call to do the dirty work, the ones who walk where others fear to tread, the ones who are there for all of us, no matter what, no matter when, no matter where and no matter how extraordinarily horrific a situation may be.

Horrific situations like the one that unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday.

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The graphic images,  the lifeless bodies of innocent children and the carnage present in that school will never be erased from the minds of the Police Officers that answered that call.

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I, for one, am grateful that there are still people out there who are willing to do this kind of work.

Now I lay me down to sleep………

FOOTNOTE:

This blog post solely concerns the effects of critical incident imagery on Law Enforcement Officers.

I would also like to acknowledge the fact that these effects are frequently experienced by members of the Canadian Military and our First Responder Community, all of which are equally deserving of our respect, concern and support.

LEGAL MARIHUANA – A Moral Dilemma

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It’s time for a much-needed conversation.

In a ground breaking move, Colorado and Washington have become the first two US States to legalize marihuana.

In fact, according to a recent Rasmussen Poll, 56% of Americans now favor the legalization of marihuana.  Compare that with figures in 1994 when only 25% of the population was in favor.

Time Health & Family recently posted an article citing ten reasons why we should revisit marihuana policy;

  1. Americans are increasingly favoring the legalization of pot
  2. Supporting marihuana reform is no longer political suicide
  3. Teens are more likely to smoke pot than cigarettes
  4. Marihuana use doesn’t increase the risk of lung cancer, mental illness or death
  5. Medical marihuana dispensaries aren’t linked to organized crime
  6. Most drug arrests are for marihuana possession
  7. Marihuana enforcement targets minorities
  8. New uses for Medical Marihuana
  9. Real Marihuana is probably safer
  10. A Judges Plea – calls from the bench for decriminalization of marihuana

On the local front, the legalization of marihuana has significant support.

Leading the charge is retired Winnipeg Police Service Staff Sergeant William “Billy” Vandergraaf.  Vandergraaf was a well-known, high-profile, crime fighting Police Officer who retired from the Service in 2001 and subsequently joined an international anti prohibition organization called L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) .

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Retired Staff Sergeant William “Billy” Vandergraaf

I worked on a few homicide cases with Vandergraaf and can vouch for his tenacity and fearless temperament.

I, for one, was taken aback when I first heard of Vandergraaf’s arrest for marihuana possession after a grow op in his East Kildonan home was raided by the Police in April of 2007.

Investigators seized a total of twenty-one plants along with growing equipment that included bulbs, fans, timers, thermometers and a dehumidifier.

In typical Vandergraaf style, he wasn’t afraid to confront the charges and shared his belief in medicinal marihuana use;

“What can I say, I’m not going to hide behind these issues.  I’ve got some serious health issues, and some members of my family do as well.  This was just being grown for my own personal use”, Vandergraaf said in an interview.

I’m not sure what happened to these charges and it really doesn’t matter.

The point I would make is that as a marihuana user, Vandergraafs opinion regarding legalization is obviously less than objective.

I am not a marihuana user nor would I be if the drug was decriminalized.

Having said that, when you consider the changing tides in American attitudes, it seems to me that Vandergraaf is somewhat of a visionary.

During the course of my career I investigated literally thousands of violent incidents which included approximately two hundred (200) homicides.   I can tell you with absolute certainty that not one of the murders I investigated was committed by an offender who was high on marihuana.  Conversely, a very high percentage of homicide cases involved alcohol fuelled violence.  No one can reasonably suggest that marihuana is a greater societal evil than alcohol.

The Government should not ignore the recent chain of events south of our borders and start having a serious conversation about the decriminalization of this widely used drug.

I haven’t done the research, but on the surface it seems like legalization would be a significant blow to organized crime.  I would think that it would also have a side benefit of work load reduction for the Winnipeg Police Service.

Not to mention the taxation benefits and potential for new industry and job creation.

Once you get your head wrapped around this concept, it might be time for society to start thinking about another societal ill.  The oldest profession.

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The debate regarding legalized prostitution rages on.  The arguments for and against all seem to have some degree of merit.

As a law enforcement officer, I often questioned the law regarding the illegality of prostitution.  My views of prostitutes were generally sympathetic.  Most of the sex trade workers I met were drug addicted women who were trapped in never-ending cycle of 24 /7 crack cocaine binges.  The insatiable hunger for the drug supersedes everything, like the need to eat or sleep, to parent or be connected to family.  I can tell you first hand that it is a tortured existence.

I essentially saw these women as victims and questioned why it was that we targeted them for arrest and detention.  It seemed like a misguided form of intervention that added the stigma of a criminal record to the women caught in the Police net.

What are some of the potential benefits of legalized prostitution?

(For the record, I have never used the services of a prostitute and I wouldn’t participate in prostitution if it was legalized.)

Would legalized prostitution help take women off the streets who are exposed to violent crime such as rape and murder?

Would legalized prostitution reduce the epidemic numbers of Missing & Murdered women that we are currently experiencing?

Would legalized prostitution undermine the efforts of organized crime to reap the benefits of illegal prostitution and human trafficking?

Would legalized prostitution expose sex trade workers to more aggressive drug addiction and health protocols?

Much like the legalization of marihuana, would legalized prostitution have significant benefits related to taxation, new industry and job creation.

The question remains, is our socially conservative society ready for this debate.

The questions related to the legalization of marihuana and prostitution are moral issues that need to be seriously considered by our Government.

The time for that conversation is now!

FOOTNOTE:

Some people suggest that in order for legalized prostitution to work, street prostitution would have to be treated as a much more serious offence for both Johns and sex trade workers.  Mandatory minimum jail sentences for Johns and an aggressive campaign to publicly disclose their identities would be strong disincentives to continue to participate in illegal street prostitution.  Proponents of legalized prostitution believe that the creation of “safety zones” or “red light districts” with increased Police presence can reduce violent crime against sex trade workers and help to reduce under age prostitution.

RELATED LINKS:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/12/14/insulting-fanatics-theyre-the-people-who-make-up-the-legalization-campaignhttp://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/puffs-and-politics-hit-legislature-148365895.html

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2011/11/08/kill-crime-bill-critics

THE CANADIAN PAROLE BOARD – A Dangerous Exercise in Futility

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Just when you thought the Canadian Justice System couldn’t get any worse, news of the release of Bruce Douglas Stewner-47 years hit the news wire.

Stewner was convicted in 1995 of the vicious 1994 murder of his wife Kelly, who he mercilessly stabbed up to twenty (20) times after chasing her down and catching her on Portage Ave near Overdale St in the City of Winnipeg.

The broad daylight killing shocked a community and deeply affected an off duty Police Officer who witnessed the killing and would later testify that he heard Stewner saying, “How do you like that Kelly” as he stabbed her repeatedly in the back.

As Stewner stood over his mortally wounded wife witnesses report hearing him say, “I told you, Kelly. I told you this would happen. You got what you deserved.”

Murder just doesn’t get much colder or more callous than that.

Justice James Smith would later state “This was one of the most vicious, brutal, violent multiple stabbings, committed in broad daylight, chasing this woman from her car in front of people with a prohibited butterfly knife with an 8.5 centimeter blade which at one point stabbed into her eight centimeters. The deceased had her hands over her head and one of the stabs went through her hand into her head and the tip broke off in her head.”

I personally attended the trial and witnessed a hate filled Stewner “mean mugging” and doing his best to intimidate everyone in that Courtroom.  The only set of eyes I’ve ever peered into that were colder than his belonged to the infamous baby killer Daniel Younger.

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Ultimately, Stewner was convicted of 2nd Degree Murder and received a life sentence with “no chance of parole for twenty years.”

A sentence that has been completely undermined and essentially “set aside” by the Canadian Parole Board.

Since when did “life with no possibility of parole for twenty (20) years” equate to some three hundred (300) escorted temporary absences from prison since February 2008?

Since when did “life with no possibility of parole for twenty (20) years” equate to parole after eighteen and a half (18 1/2) years?

Since when did “life with no possibility of parole for twenty (20) years” equate to opportunities for a prison romance and marriage to a prison groupie in April 2011?

Most insulting of all, how does the parole board grant “standing” to Stewner’s prison bride and allow her to provide evidence at his parole hearing.

Parole board documents provide a summary of her evidence; “She says you have proactively addressed issues and notes that you have improved your ability to deal with conflict. She noted that accountability is important to you.”

The fact that the Parole board allowed this evidence is a complete condemnation of the entire parole system.

The parole board ought to be aware of the significant mental health issues that are attributed to “prison brides.”

Prison brides receive a considerable amount of attention from journalists who explore the troubled women who pursue relationships with criminals who have committed heinous crimes.

Reputed killers the likes of the Hillside stranglers Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Erik and Lyle Menendez & Scott Peterson all found love and married prison brides.

Even Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people, including nineteen (19) children under the age of six (6), received marriage proposals before he was executed.

The obvious question that should be asked is “What kind of woman seeks out these kind of relationships.”

Psychologist Elaine Aron, author of “The Highly Sensitive Person in Love”, helps our understanding.

According to Aron a highly sensitive person is someone who is particularly empathic and often struggles with overstimulation in daily life and intimate attachments.

“Their issues could dovetail quite neatly with an inmate. … they would feel particularly compassionate or sympathetic to an inmate, and at the same time feel comfortable with a relationship that comes with predictability and defined boundaries.”

Researchers and Psychologists report that people with a history of abuse or low self-esteem are more likely to fall in love with someone who has committed a violent crime.

Aron continues “Many people in jail are sociopaths and they’re very good at manipulating people.”

Sheila Isenber, author of the book “Women who Love Men who Kill”, reports that the women she interviewed for her book had all experienced some sort of abuse in their past.

“Some of these women may actually feel safer in these relationships.  When their partner is incarcerated, he can’t hit her or be abusive.”

Sampson Quain, ehow contributor, wrote a pertinent article called “Why Women marry Men in Prison.”   The article underlines several factors that contribute to the prison bride phenomena.  These factors include;

Hybristophilia – A mental disorder characterized by extreme arousal or attraction to a person who has committed a grisly or violent crime.  Women who write fan letters to convicts, fantasize about them or agree to marry them are exhibiting the passive form of hybristophilia. They would not be likely to commit a crime, but will often justify the crimes committed by the object of their attraction.

Low Self-Esteem – Some women marry men in prison because of self-esteem issues from their pasts. Women who’ve experienced a slew of bad relationships or sexual and physical abuse may be more emotionally vulnerable to a charming man in prison who showers them with attention and desires their companionship.

Forbidden Romance – Some women may be drawn to male inmates because of the sense of danger this kind of relationship represents. For a woman who wants to rebel against societal norms, marrying a man in prison is the kind of act that would shock friends, family and colleagues. For a woman who’s never done anything rebellious, developing a forbidden romance with a “bad boy” could provide the kind of exciting, dramatic experience she’s been lacking all her life.

Belief that the Killer is innocent – Some women first become involved with men in prison because they believe those men are innocent. While fighting for a new trial or trying to unearth new evidence, some women find themselves falling in love.  In other cases, a woman may be convinced an imprisoned man is guilty but that he didn’t receive a fair trial, or that his lawyers were incompetent and prevented him from getting a lesser sentence.

By considering the testimony of the stupefied prison bride, the Parole board helps to remind us that victims of crime, and surviving family members rights are a trite consideration when it comes to the administration of criminal justice.

Kelly Stewner’s family was not only subjected to the horrific loss they suffered as a result of Bruce Stewner’s unrepentant violence, they are now subjected to the insult of having his prison bride testify at his Parole Hearing.

If all that wasn’t enough, the parole boards finding in this case perfectly illustrates their own incompetence and inability to provide protection to members of the public.

Their finding;

“You have a history of failed intimate relationships with women that often featured spousal violence.”

“There have been suggestions by (prison) staff that you may still need to control and dominate women. Your risk to re-offend violently was assessed as moderate and your risk to re-offend in the context of an intimate relationship was assessed as high.”

With such a determination, the Parole board saw fit to allow Stewner to go out on more than three hundred (300) escorted temporary absences and have now granted him day parole.  (And we wonder why correction costs in this Country are astronomical.)

Stewner will be eligible to apply for full parole in May of 2014.

This case is a text-book example of why we need prison reform that should include the complete abolition of the Parole board as we know it.  A dysfunctional, nonsensical, out of balance entity that can no longer be trusted to ensure the safety of the citizens of this Country.

The Canadian Parole Board is a dangerous exercise in futility.

I highly doubt that you’ve heard the last of this story.

Tic, tic, tic…..

FOOTNOTE:

Cases like this call for a response from the Community.  If you are moved by this story then I would ask you to do your part and make your concerns known to the Federal Justice Minister, The Honourable Robert Douglas Nicholson and the Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan.  A few short lines expressing your outrage is all that is required.

(Email address links are on the respective websites.)

LINKS:

CORRECTIONAL SERVICE CANADA

PAROLE  DEFINITIONS

http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/npb/pg-eng.shtml

TEMPORARY ABSENCES

http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/plcy/cdshtm/710-3-cd-eng.shtml

NEWS PAPER ARTICLES

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/killer-given-early-release-a-total-manipulator-182496821.html

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/12/06/sister-laments-wife-killer-bruce-stewners-release

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/brutal-wife-killer-gets-early-release-182324551.html