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Gardaí 'forced to wait over an hour' for armed support to arrive on dangerous scenes

Gardaí have described the waiting times as unacceptable.

Image: RollingNews.ie

GARDAI HAVE HIT out at under-staffing in the armed support units which they say is putting members of the force at immediate and serious risk.

Speaking at the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual conference in Westport in Mayo, officers described situations where they claimed to have waited over an hour for armed members to attend dangerous scenes.

GRA representative for Sligo/Leitrim Ray Wims told The Journal that there have been very serious incidents in his district where officers have been left waiting “unacceptable” amounts of time.

He said: “We do not have sufficient armed backup to deal with these violent incidents. There is no armed support unit in the Sligo/Leitrim division.

“We have the facts, stats don’t lie. The armed response, the majority of the time, they’re over 30 minutes away and sometimes over 60 minutes away.

“Is it acceptable that unarmed officers go to the scene of a knife incident or a firearm incident and they’re waiting over 30 minutes for armed backup to come?”

The conference passed various motions yesterday which called on the Garda Commissioner to carry out a review of armed support capability, including:

  • Response times
  • Consideration on whether Tasers should be available to all frontline members
  • Introduction of child exploitation units in each of the 31 Garda divisions

Specifically referencing the Taser issue, Wims said there needs to be more serious discussions about the potential to arm officers with the non-lethal weapons.

“We have to have the conversation whether we arm frontline response officers with Tasers or not. There is a huge rise in domestic violence. These are high stress incidents that members attend to,” he said.

“We are in a different place than we were 15 years ago. It is emergency situations that we’re dealing with.

“We’re calling on the Garda Commissioner to do a review in each Garda district of armed backup, the response times.

“We’re aware GRA members from Sligo/Leitrim are aware of several cases in 2021 where it took over two hours for armed backup to call, and many times where it was cancelled because uniform officers deescalated the situation before the armed backup came.”

Wims claimed that response times are a concern, but that members are aware that armed backup is not always readily available – they’re sometimes told to contain a situation instead:

The member is going to put their life at risk to go in and take the suspect out of the house. They will not leave the person there for over 30 minutes or an hour. They will deal with the situation as best they can.

“They risk assess it themselves. When armed backup is requested, it’s requested for a reason. The member feels their safety is at risk – we’re not equipped to deal with it.

“[Let's say] there is a knife produced, or there is a firearm produced – what do we do? Do we tell the victim armed backup will be there in 30 minutes? The ETA is always given: 30 minutes, 60 minutes. And we have the stats. We want the Commissioner to do a review on it – to have the conversation.

“Armed backup, I’m told by my colleagues, is readily available in the urban areas because it’s contained but rural areas because it’s so vast, and that’s why we want the Garda Commissioner to look at the international norms.”

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Last month, The Journal reported that armed support units in the capital are also facing a staffing crisis. 

There have been several reports of overtime being used to fill minimum requirements for the ASU in recent months, according to multiple sources.

Garda Representative Association (GRA) rep Ciarán O’Neill told The Journal that there needs to be more done quickly to ensure that the ASU is brought up to full capacity.

He said: “The Armed Support Unit is there to provide an urgent armed response to support our frontline members when needed.

“It is extremely worrying for both gardaí and the public we serve that this unit is not operating at full capacity.

“There is now an urgent need for the members successful in the recent recruitment process to the ASU to be adequately trained to provide an appropriate backup for our members on the frontline.”

The Garda Press Office has been contacted for comment.

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