Time for a ‘C’ change

Jeff Kilkenny looks at An Garda Síochána’s role in promoting, ‘Stay Safe principles’ and what are known as the 6 C’s

The majority of frontline members of An Garda Síochána will, in all likelihood, have attended a call in the recent past which involved the threat or mention of some form of weapon. In such cases, the details of the call will usually be followed by a message from the garda dispatcher in Command and Control, advising members to exercise caution, follow the stay safe principles, and utilise the 6 C’s.

Adopted over the last couple of years, these guidelines are intended to give gardaí some form of framework when responding to armed incidents or major emergencies. Forming part of An Garda Síochána’s 2019 Policing Plan, of ‘Keeping people safe’, the running of a ‘6 C’s stay safe’ awareness campaign for all garda members is now an integral part of garda training. Protocols are now in place, and frontline members should be aware that there is a need to risk assess situations like these, so as to formulate the best tactical response at the time.

Kathleen O’Toole, in compiling her report, indicated that, “While the above may sound to many like common sense, it is often counterintuitive to police officers worldwide, who often feel compelled to act speedily to confront and disarm people with weapons. Immediately confronting an armed individual, while appropriate in some situations, may be wholly inappropriate in other incidents.”

The Garda Síochána Inspectorate Report, No.2, dated February 2007, which involved a detailed review of garda practices and procedures for barricade incidents following the garda responses to Abbeylara and Gort highlighted the issue quite clearly; “All too often police officers proceed too quickly to make close quarter contact with armed subjects in situations where there is no immediate requirement to do so. Police officers have been indoctrinated to act swiftly when responding to emergency situations, including armed incidents…..Even highly experienced officers often respond hastily to gun calls without giving sufficient thought to the possible consequences.”

The word ‘confront’ is not included in the 6 C’s, as this should be a last resort for unarmed, first responder gardaí. Save for the doomsday scenario of a marauding terrorist attack (MTA), such as the likes of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017, which may require immediate intervention by officers to protect life. Confronting an armed individual that is alone, isolated or where there is no imminent threat to other persons in the vicinity, runs the serious risk of escalating the situation and putting officers’ lives in danger.

As journalist Michael O’Toole states, “Unarmed members of the City of London Police were the first responders to the London attacks and while they were praised for their heroism in taking on the Jihadis, several of them suffered serious knife wounds themselves.”

More commonly, members of An Garda Síochána while out on patrol will encounter an armed individual who is suffering from mental health issues, invariably not wishing to harm anyone else other than themselves. This is where the implementation of the 6 C’s comes to the fore.

When dealing with such a scenario, where there is no threat to other persons, members should be cognisant of their own safety and avoid risking a confrontation that may compound an already tense and dangerous situation. The members’ focus at this initial stage should be on containing the situation and resisting the urge to tackle an armed suspect.

Ongoing scenario-based training involving regular frontline units and specialist tactical units, such as the recent exercise carried out in DCU which brought together first responders, ASU and ERU, is critical in establishing best practice in response to armed calls or Hostage/Barricade/Suicide (HBS) type incidents. Through this type of training, officers can be subjected to the highly realistic stresses they will encounter in a real-world experience which can lead to better decision making under pressure and the increased ability to ‘Stay Safe’.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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