In an age where politicians and gun control advocates, no matter how well intentioned, insist only the police and military should have guns, we must acknowledge the fact these brave men and women are still mere mortals – just like the rest of us. They are not endowed with any magical properties, nor are they somehow “better” than anyone else.
Yet no matter how experienced or well-trained, even these trained professionals can (and do) make deadly mistakes.
Calgary Police Service Constable Darren Beatty’s death at the hands of a fellow police officer is a terrible and tragic reminder of this.
The day he died, Constable Beatty was a 5-year member of the Calgary Police.
The man who killed him, Constable Cyril Pratt, was a 3-year member of the Calgary Police Service. Prior to joining Calgary PD, he was a member of the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team in British Columbia.
Cyril Pratt was an experienced and well-trained police officer who let his guard down for a few seconds. Those few seconds cost a man his life and deprived his wife of her husband.
One Fatal Mistake
[The details below are taken from the transcript of the Public inquiry into the Death of Darren Beatty]
On October 17, 2001, at noon, several members of the Calgary Police Service were training at their District 7 Silver Springs Training Centre.
- Constable Grant Fong: designated training officer
- Constable Mike Worden: assistant training officer
- Constable Shawn Wallace
- Constable Tom Marston
- Constable Rob Hamel
- Constable Cyril Pratt
- Constable Darren Beatty
Standard procedure at the time was to unload all weapons used during exercises.
Prior to entering the Training Centre that morning, each team member performed a safety check to ensure there was no live rounds in the chamber of their firearms. After their individual safety checks, the team performed a “buddy check” to guarantee all firearms were, in fact, unloaded.
After the morning training session, both safety officers left to set up another training session at a different facility.
This left the five-man team without a designated safety officer for their afternoon training session. With no designated safety officer present, there was no “last line of defence” to guarantee all safety procedures were followed by the team.
This is where things broke down that fateful day.
The five-man team stayed at the Silver Springs Training Centre to eat lunch and check out some new camera equipment.
Constables Wallace, Hamel, and Beatty discussed testing out the new camera equipment by doing an impromptu “tough scenario” training exercise involving a hostage and a quarry.
Neither Marston nor Pratt were aware of the proposed scenario. At the time of the discussion, Marston was in the washroom and Pratt left the Training Centre to retrieve the new camera equipment from his police vehicle.
Standard procedure mandated weapons must be reloaded before exiting the training facility. This is exactly what Constable Pratt did.
When he returned with the camera gear, he failed to unload his service pistol. Nobody checked Pratt’s sidearm to ensure it was unloaded, as per standard procedure.
 On all the evidence heard by me, I am satisfied that there was no clear structure to the impromptu training exercise. The specific activity of all members of the team during the exercise was not clearly articulated and agreed upon by all members before the exercise was actually carried out. All members had done “hostage rescues” in the past, and once their respective roles were “assumed” they relied on their training and intuition reading off each other to execute the scenario.
 No personal “physical” and “visual” safety check or “buddy checks” of members’ handguns were done prior to the commencement of the new scenario to ensure that all members’ handguns were unloaded.
Although Hamel was the senior officer in charge, no member assumed the role of training officer or safety officer to conduct a final check of all members’ handguns to ensure they were not loaded.
Beatty, the “quarry”, was not given an opportunity to conduct a final check of all members’ handguns to ensure they were not loaded prior to the commencement of the scenario.
 Hamel entered the “incident room” and saw Beatty being attended to by Marston. He then spoke with Pratt who was by himself in an equipment room across the hall. Hamel saw that Pratt did not have his handgun, and that his holster was empty. Wanting to get Pratt’s gun away from him, he asked Pratt where his gun was, and Pratt said, “I don’t know.” Hamel then asked Pratt, “What happened? Did you unload this morning?” Pratt replied, “I did, Robby, but I fuckin loaded up when I went out to get the camera. Then I forgot to, you know.”
 Hamel knew what Pratt meant when he said, “You know”. Hamel testified that Pratt forgot to unload or forgot the first cardinal safety rule. (i.e. all guns are loaded)
Ultimately, Constable Darren Beatty is dead because everyone present, including Beatty himself, failed to follow basic safety rules taught at every Canadian Firearm Safety Course and Canadian Restricted Firearm Safety Course:
- Assume every firearm is loaded.
- Control the muzzle direction at all times.
- Trigger finger must be kept off the trigger and out of the trigger guard.
- See that the firearm is unloaded – PROVE it safe.
- Point the firearm in the safest available direction.
- Remove all cartridges.
- Observe the chamber.
- Verify the feeding path.
- Examine the bore.
Calgary Police Service revised their training procedures after Constable Beatty’s death to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again.
That’s little consolation to his widow or the rest of his family.