What began with a human foot mailed to the headquarters of the federal Conservative Party has evolved into the search for a 29-year-old Canadian man suspected of killing and dismembering another man.
On May 30, police issued a Canada-wide warrant for Luka Rocco Magnotta on suspicion of first-degree murder, after a human torso was found in a suitcase outside a Montreal apartment complex.
How many officers typically participate in a manhunt?
Police shows tend to present a manhunt as a special force of dedicated officers. The reality is less dramatic.
“A manhunt doesn’t involve getting together 200 or 300 officers, briefing them all at once and then sending them off and they go in all these different directions,” says Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association as well as president of the Vancouver Police Union.
“Essentially, the manhunt involves every single police officer working at any given time across this country, because each police officer would receive a message.”
How is information disseminated?
Police forces across Canada are linked through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), an electronic database managed by the RCMP. Every police officer has access to this national system. It is closed off to the public.
The details of every incident reported to police somewhere in Canada is entered into CPIC — names of complainants and suspects, photographic evidence, vehicle serial numbers and so on. In cases where an assailant is being sought, the incident file would include requests from the originating agency about what should be done if the individual is found in another part of the country.
“When I enter their information onto the system, it would come up that another agency is interested in talking to that person, and there could be specific instructions” for how to handle them, says Stamatakis.
That could include instructions to arrest and detain the person and notify the originating agency, which would likely send out its own officers to follow through on the investigation.
When an individual becomes the subject of a countrywide search, photos and other identifying information are distributed to all officers through CPIC as well as email. The message will typically include a picture, details of the alleged crime and identifying features of the person.
“So each time [an officer] comes on duty, they receive a package of information and they know to be on the lookout for this particular person,” says Stamatakis.
What is the division of labour for any manhunt?
For an extensive search, police follow a protocol that essentially amounts to a comprehensive checklist. In Ontario, it’s called the Major Case Management Manual, a strategy developed based on the findings of the Campbell inquiry of 1996. Chaired by Ontario Justice Archie Campbell, the inquiry studied miscommunication between various law enforcement agencies during the investigation of the Paul Bernardo case.
The lead force in a given manhunt — typically the one in the jurisdiction where the main crime occurred — assigns a “major case manager” to oversee the various pillars of the investigation. The individual groups involved in a manhunt include people assigned to crime scene examination and post-mortem examinations, criminal profilers and those managing the reams of documents related to the case.
What happens if the search goes global?
If the manhunt expands beyond Canada’s borders, the RCMP co-ordinates with Interpol, an agency with members from 190 countries that facilitates international co-operation in criminal investigations.
The RCMP refused to comment on how manhunts are conducted, saying it would be “inappropriate for us to comment at the risk of possibly compromising” the Luka Rocco Magnotta investigation.
Are there any legal hurdles when police conduct a manhunt?
Police can deploy all sorts of resources during a manhunt, including surveillance trucks and helicopters. But some procedures, like wiretapping, require warrants or judge’s orders.
Stamatakis says there are provisions in the Criminal Code that allow officers to proceed without a warrant in exigent circumstances — like a kidnapping, where every minute counts. But he says there is still an obligation to seek legal approval.
“If there is a person that is in immediate risk, you start your surveillance right away, but while you’re doing that, you’re also assigning officers to begin the process of getting judicial authorization to engage in that kind of surveillance,” he says.
How important are citizen tips?
According to one police source, tips from the public are “extremely useful.” While some tips might seem vague or innocuous, the police will consider them all, because every piece of information has the potential to break a case wide open.
Due to the large volume of tips, and the fact that each one must be followed up, police prioritize tips based on relevance.