Rank and Structure in the Garda Sı´ocha´na and the Role of the Emergency Response Unit
1. Rank structure within the Garda Sı´ocha´na
Chapter 3 of the Garda Code provides a structure of command within the Garda Sı´ocha´na which is rank based. The Commissioner is in overall command and is responsible for the direction and management of the organisation. The Commissioner is appointed by the government and is directly responsible to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Commissioner is assisted in the management of the force by a team of senior officers comprising two deputy commissioners and ten assistant commissioners.
The organisation is divided into two sections for management and administrative purposes. One deputy commissioner is responsible for operational matters and the other for strategic and resource management. In addition to these functions, deputy commissioners advise the Commissioner on policy matters.
At the time of the events at Abbeylara, the Deputy Commissioner Strategic and Resource Management co-ordinated the activities of Assistant Commissioner ‘‘A’’ branch (responsible for Finance, Services & Community Relations) and Assistant Commissioner, ‘‘B’’ Branch (responsible for Human Resource Management and Research). The Deputy Commissioner Operations co-ordinated the activities of the Assistant commissioner ‘‘C’’ Branch, (responsible for Crime, Security and Traffic), and each of the Assistant Commissioners in charge of a region. The Assistant Commissioner ‘‘C’’ Branch was responsible for the ERU which was part of the Special Detective Unit based in Harcourt Street, Dublin. Since 2000 the activities of ‘‘C’’ Branch Crime Security and Traffic have been divided into two parts, presided over respectively by the Assistant Commissioner, Crime and Security and Assistant Commissioner National support services.
The state is divided into six regions: the Dublin Metropolitan, Eastern, Northern, Southern, South Eastern, and Western regions. Each region is commanded by a regional assistant commissioner. Each of the regions is divided into divisions commanded by a chief superintendent (divisional officer). In turn the divisions are divided into districts commanded by a superintendent (district officer).
District officers act as the operational and administrative commanders of their district. They have overall charge and responsibility for all serious incidents which occur within their district. In addition, they have a number of specific functions under law, such as the issuing of firearm certificates. A district officer is assisted by a number of
Inspectors. Every district has a Detective Unit and a Traffic Unit attached to it; all under the command of the district officer.
The districts are divided into sub-districts which are the responsibility of a Sergeant. Each sub-district usually has one garda station. The number of officers attached to each station may vary from three to 100.
Rank structure, as a matter of practice, has been confirmed in evidence by a number of senior officers. Thus, in his evidence to the Tribunal, Chief Superintendent Tansey stated:
‘‘the system structure/structure of command in An Garda Sı´ocha´na is rank based. In a siege situation, the Superintendent/District Officer, as siege commander, has overall charge and responsibility for the management of the scene as the incident unfolds. He/she implements a strategy of the Assistant Commissioner and Chief Superintendent and develops their own strategies at the scene as circumstances dictate. The overall siege strategy was formulated jointly by the Assistant Commissioner and Chief Superintendent. The strategy employed was the strategy established by the Commissioner of An Garda Sı´ocha´na for resolving incidents of this nature. The goal was one of peaceful resolution by isolation, evacuation, containment and negotiation with the subject. The strategy was not committed to writing.’’
Prior to the appointment of regional assistant commissioners, it was the responsibility of the divisional officer, being the chief superintendent, to establish strategy. However, Chief Superintendent Tansey observed that now regional assistant commissioners have overall responsibility for the operations in their particular region.
The strategy is devised by the divisional officer. It is based on consultation between the divisional officer and the assistant commissioner. In the event of any disagreement, the senior officer’s view will prevail.
At Abbeylara, the Emergency Response Unit provided assistance but at all times it was directly accountable to and under the control of the scene commander, Superintendent Shelly or Superintendent Byrne, as district officers.
2. Emergency Response Unit — origins
In an extensive report to the Tribunal, Detective Superintendent Hogan related the origins of the ERU. He said that:
‘‘On 15th December 1977, the Commissioner of An Garda Sı´ocha´na authorised the formation of the Special Task Force, STF. This decision followed an agreement between member states of the EEC requiring each state to maintain a specially trained group, capable of responding to terrorist incidents, such as hijacking and hostage taking. During 1977 garda officers visited special police groups in Germany, (GSG9), and Belgium (Gendarmerie), where selection, training and operation methods were observed. Their report formed the basis on which the STF was established and developed throughout the following
decade. Core skills included physical fitness, enhanced firearms training and driving skills.
Duties were performed in support of regular garda units and consisted of operations to suppress armed crime, through ground/air patrols along with anti-subversive initiatives, conducted in border regions. In conjunction with these deployments, a response element was maintained to major incidents throughout the State’’.
He also told the Tribunal that:
‘‘In 1984, personnel from within STF underwent additional training with the army ranger wing, the specialist intervention unit of the Irish Defence Forces. From this process, the Anti-Terrorist Unit was established and later renamed the Emergency Response Unit, in 1987. This Unit operated under the control of the Detective Chief Superintendent, Special Detective Unit and was based at Harcourt Square, Dublin. An emphasis was placed on dedicated training and development of the core skills and operational tactics. During this phase the methodologies relevant to hostage rescue and siege incidents were introduced to the unit’s projected development.
Common within the international fraternity of specialist units, the development of response techniques was initially derived from the military experience. This was due to the indigenous availability of expertise, training facilities and political support in maintaining dedicated resources capable of responding to terrorist actions’’.
During its formative years, emphasis was placed on military experience, however:
‘‘The situation changed in the early 1980s, when an emphasis was placed on a police rather than a military response to major incidents. From within this historic context, the principles of siege management and negotiation emerged. Training and development of Emergency Response Unit personnel was orientated towards providing a primarily police response to such incidents’’.
Superintendent Hogan explained to the Tribunal that the Emergency Response Unit developed in the context of anti-subversive activity and issues surrounding the security of the State. He stressed that the Garda Sı´ocha´na does not have a military role, nor are they based on military structures. This is contrasted with units in some other countries, such as Italy and Spain. Between, 1978 and 1984, the tactics and skills of the STF (Special Task Force) were developed and there was considerable contact with other European units. At that time, the Garda commenced to break away from military training and moved towards police orientated training and response.
The duties of the Emergency Response Unit were set out in a report of a Working Group established in 1998 to review its operation. Such duties included:
i. Armed support during criminal/subversive operations;
ii. Specialist search techniques, including forced entry;
iii. To assist in the execution of high risk warrants;
iv. To provide regional ground/air patrols;
v. To provide specialised patrols within the Dublin Assistant Commissioner;
vi. VIP protection;
vii. Skills training and development.
area as directed by the
Since 1998, the Emergency Response Unit has developed its capabilities in a number of fields including:
i. Intervention, including hostage rescue methods;
ii. Emergency medical response;
iii. In-house training (the unit possesses its own instructors in firearms, tactics etc.);
iv. Cold breaching entry techniques;
v. Observer marksmanship.
3. Composition and membership of the Emergency Response Unit
The ERU is part of the Special Detective Unit under the command of the Detective Superintendent of Operations. The Tribunal was informed that the full strength of the unit is 49 members, broken down by rank as follows:
i One detective inspector; i Eight sergeants;
i 40 detective gardaı´.
The unit is divided into four working groups of two sergeants and ten gardaı´. It works a two relief system from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
ERU personnel are serving members of the Garda Sı´ocha´na. Applicants are required to have completed at least three years service following attestation. As in other areas of the Garda Sı´ocha´na, members who are promoted to sergeant rank are required to serve at least one year in a uniformed staff section before being eligible for return to the unit.
4. Pre-selection, pre-allocation courses and training
The selection of applicants to be members of the Emergency Response Unit is based on a two week selection course, conducted by the specialist school at the Garda College. An ERU member of supervisory rank participates in the selection process. Successful candidates then undergo an induction training course at the specialist school. This induction/training course, which is known as the pre-allocation course, is six weeks in duration. The core content consists of two weeks’ firearms training,
two weeks’ tactical training and two weeks’ driving instruction. Members, who successfully complete their induction training, when allocated to the Emergency Response Unit, are further assessed for a period of six months, followed by an eighteen-month probationary period before appointment as detective.
Training is described as being a vital and significant element of ERU operations. The unit is required to achieve and sustain a high level of physical fitness. Each unit is required to dedicate one working week in four, to training. In addition, each unit is required to attend the Garda College for bi-annual training.
Members are required to qualify three times yearly in all firearms that are on issue to the unit. They must maintain proficiency in five firearms and the Tribunal was informed that there is considerable time spent in training in achieving minimum standards. Firearms training is undertaken in two modules which are: (1) in-house tactical training on an ongoing basis from the ERU’s own firearms instructors; and (2) refresher range practice. Practical training is undertaken at the specialist school utilising a purpose-built building and structural designs for scenario training. According to information submitted to the Tribunal, a substantial portion of each training week is dedicated to tactical procedures which include operational planning, containment of armed situations and barricaded incidents and hostage rescue methods. The unit utilises FX Simunition, a marker system for simulated scenarios during tactical training.
A number of members of the unit have received specialist training at overseas centres. Some have participated in a 16 day tactical and firearms training course at the training camps of the FBI hostage rescue team in Quantico, Virginia, USA.
5. Operational support/training role
Superintendent Hogan told the Tribunal that, in the Irish context, the operational support of regular garda units is a primary function of the Emergency Response Unit.
The Tribunal was also informed by Superintendent Hogan that another source of knowledge and experience is ‘‘the participation of (the) Emergency Response Unit in the training and development of the various garda ranks, from Inspector to Chief Superintendent, in the role of siege management and negotiation’’.
Since its establishment, the Emergency Response Unit has participated regularly in siege scenario training in the Garda specialist school. Exercises have required ERU command elements to liaise with scene commanders, advise on tactics and perform intelligence gathering functions including aid, delivery and primary containment duties. Surrender and arrest scenarios and training in the resolution of hostage situations are undertaken in training.
6. Emergency Response Unit — rank structure
When called to an incident, the Emergency Response Unit operates under the scene commander. In many situations, the scene commander is unlikely to have the same level of experience or training in relation to such incidents as members of the ERU.
7. Evidence of Detective Inspector John Gantley
Detective Inspector Gantley, the detective inspector in charge of the ERU, gave evidence to the Tribunal in relation to the Garda Hostage Negotiation Course which he delivered in 2001. The purpose of his lecture on this course was to provide officers with knowledge of the part the ERU plays in a siege type situation or firearms incident. With regard to command and control, he informed the Tribunal that the district officer (being the superintendent of the district) must be responsible for all aspects of policing within his or her area. He stated that following the general guidelines within the Garda Sı´ocha´na, at an incident such as that at Abbeylara, a member of the operational team is answerable to the district officer, who in turn is answerable to the appropriate divisional officer who is a chief superintendent.
8. Role or rank based responsibility — other jurisdictions
In certain respects the rank and role structure within the Garda Sı´ocha´na approximates to structures which have been adopted in other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, where a rank and role system known as Gold, Silver and Bronze is applied. There are, however, differences. In that jurisdiction, the system is as described in the ‘‘Manual of Guidance on Police use of Firearms’’ prepared in January, 2001 by the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO), which provides that the division of responsibility is ‘‘role and not necessarily rank based’’. Operational responsibility rests always with the Silver Commander. The arrival of a more senior officer to the scene does not remove or shift that responsibility. In relation to the role carried out by the Gold Commander, Inspector Gantley agreed that the function of the divisional officer, or chief superintendent, is analogous to that of the role performed by the Gold Commander in the UK system. That officer retains strategic responsibility.
In the United Kingdom the ACPO Manual deals with command structure as follows:
‘‘In normal circumstances an effective command structure has three levels: strategic, tactical and operational. These command functions are commonly referred to as gold, silver and bronze respectively and the commanders performing these roles need to be carefully selected, trained and updated on a regular basis.
Gold — strategy — the overall intention to combine resources towards managing and resolving an event or incident;
Silver — tactics — the way that resources are used to achieve the strategic intentions within the range of approved tactical options;
Bronze — action — organises the groups of resources to carry out the tactical plan.
The structure can be used for both pre-planned events and spontaneous incidents and can offer the degree of flexibility required to cope with a varied and developing range of circumstances. It relies on the paramount principle of
flexibility and as such is role-specific, not necessarily rank related. [emphasis added]
In particular a gold, silver and bronze command structure requires that each participant understand the parameters of their own role whilst accepting the relationship with others in the command team. Officers of senior rank cannot assume primacy solely on the basis of rank or territorial responsibility, without taking up the appropriate role within the command structure. This change should be discussed before it is undertaken and it should be documented should it occur.
Similarly, if an officer senior in rank to the gold commander, quality assures an operational plan, offers advice or makes decisions, they are likely to be held accountable for all actions taken under the plan.
There is a need on protracted operations for command resilience to be addressed — suitable, qualified replacements should be identified and briefed in good time.’’
Victoria, New Zealand and Canada
In Victoria command of an incident such as that at Abbeylara vests in the Scene Commander who is the local superintendent having overall responsibility for resolving the crisis with the minimum use of force. In New Zealand such responsibility rests with the local Inspector or Superintendent, as Scene Commander, depending on the scale of the incident. In Canada the command structure at an incident is not designated according to the rank of the officers but reflects their roles within the team; the command structure is role based and not rank based — suitability, more than rank, is the determining factor. A detailed discussion of the experience in these jurisdictions is set out in Chapter 12.
9. The decision to deploy the Emergency Response Unit to the scene
No criticism was expressed by the international policing experts who gave evidence to the Tribunal of the decision to deploy the Emergency Response Unit to the scene at Abbeylara. Similar firearms response teams would have been engaged in other countries. Mr. Bailey told the Tribunal that in light of international comparison it was appropriate to deploy the ERU as a specialist firearms team to Abbeylara. Most police services have such a unit. They bring specialist skills and equipment to firearms situations. There is a higher level of shooting accuracy required from ERU members than other gardaı´. This higher level of shooting skill is, he observed, one reason to deploy the ERU to higher risk operations, such as at Abbeylara. They must also be able to devise and use tactics to resolve incidents and also to make judgments about the appropriateness of discharging a weapon. Team tactics may be required to
enhance the safe resolution of an incident. Mr. Bailey noted that although local officers may work in the same geographical area, they may not have trained together; nor might they have responded to firearms incidents as a team. It is often the case that a specialist firearms unit is deployed to the scene to provide personnel who are trained and experienced as a team. The increase in level of skill required from firearms team officers reflects the more difficult task that that team may be asked to fulfil. In order to deal with such tasks, officers are trained to work in concert. Further, he believed that as a matter of practicality, given normal policing demands, it would not be possible to train local officers to such a high level of skill in shooting, tactics and judgement.
Mr. Bailey also observed that specialist firearms units may have access to equipment which is rarely required, expensive to purchase and which entails practice in usage. He believed that this was a further reason to deploy a specialist unit. In this regard it is to be noted, however, that the evidence to the Tribunal indicates that specialist equipment possessed by the Garda is available to the force as a whole through the Technical Support Unit.
One other typical reason why specialist firearms teams are deployed to incidents, is to release local first responders to resume normal policing duties. In this regard Mr. Bailey observed that there was a lack of clarity about whether this had been the intention at Abbeylara when the ERU were deployed. Nevertheless, he expressed the opinion that supplying additional personnel from headquarters to support the local officers was an appropriate reason for the deployment of the Emergency Response Unit to Abbeylara.
The structure of duty and responsibility within the Garda Sı´ocha´na is rank rather than role based. Command of an incident is the responsibility of the district officer. Members of the Emergency Response Unit who are detailed to provide assistance at a scene come under the overall control of the district officer, regardless of the extent of their respective experience or training. While the system of command at an incident such as that at Abbeylara approximates to the Gold, Silver and Bronze system operated in the United Kingdom, it differs in at least one significant respect; responsibility in that jurisdiction is not necessarily rank based but is role specific.
In other jurisdictions similar specialist firearms response teams would have been deployed in an Abbeylara type incident. In Victoria and in New Zealand, overall command is retained by the equivalent of the scene commander. In Canada, when called to an incident, the inspector in charge of the Emergency Response Team assumes control of that incident; local responsibility effectively ‘‘lapses’’.