Lockdown stress spurs surge in armed barricade incidents – Garda

Many suspects armed with weapons including knives, guns, petrol, chainsaws

Details of the frequency and nature of incidents of barricading, which are often very complex and volatile, are contained in the first-ever detailed breakdown of them supplied by An Garda Síochána. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Details of the frequency and nature of incidents of barricading, which are often very complex and volatile, are contained in the first-ever detailed breakdown of them supplied by An Garda Síochána. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

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Senior Garda officers believe the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic and periods of hard lockdown have driven an unprecedented spike in the number of barricade incidents to which negotiators and armed units are being called.

The number of cases this year has almost doubled and many have involved suspects, usually having barricaded themselves into their own homes, armed with knives, firearms, petrol and, in one case, a chainsaw.

Details of the frequency and nature of the incidents, which are often very complex and volatile, are contained in the first-ever detailed breakdown of barricade incidents supplied by An Garda Síochána.

Of this year’s cases, 43 suspects were armed with glass, knives or other bladed weapons and 14 cases involved firearms or what gardaí believed were firearms at the time.

In six cases, petrol or gas was a hazard at the centre of the incident while a chainsaw, medication and a syringe were a feature in three other cases.

In 23 cases, ropes or height were present as a safety risk and in 10 other cases water or height were the main safety risks with which gardaí were required to deal.

“The effects of alcohol, drugs and/or a failure to take prescribed medication are clearly noted as a factor in 10 incidents, although this figure is possibly much higher,” according to a report by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris that was presented to the Policing Authority last week.

“Of the 78 people negotiated with, 68 were male and 10 were female. This is an increase in females compared with [the] same timeframe last year. Sometimes a subject may have been in possession of multiple weapons, or the scene itself may have caused multiple dangers.”

Some of the incidents have been very serious, with two gardaí wounded and two firearms found during one barricade emergency in Dublin earlier this year.

In some cases in recent years, people have been murdered after effectively being taken hostage during barricade incidents. In other cases killers have barricaded themselves into a property after a murder and armed gardaí are now routinely deployed to the scenes.

Incidents doubled

In the first six months of this year Garda negotiators were called to 82 barricade incidents, almost double the number of incidents, at 43, to which the Garda’s National Negotiation Unit responded in the first half of last year.

“If you look at these incidents, you have a big share of them related to domestic violence and mental health issues,” said one Garda source. “A lot of pressure was applied on situations like that during lockdown. The first few months of this year were particularly bleak for people and by that stage we’d already had nearly a year of [the pandemic].”

Some 43 per cent of the incidents in the first half of this year were related to mental health issues while 21 per cent were suicide or crisis intervention cases and 16 per cent were regarded as being criminal in nature. A small number of cases related to murder-suicide, extortion, child abduction and other kidnap or hostage-taking cases.

The Garda Inspectorate over a decade ago found the force’s response to barricade incidents was inadequate and unsafe, conclusions it came to after reviewing the Barr tribunal’s findings on the shooting dead by gardaí of John Carthy during a siege in Abbeylara, Co Longford, in 2000.

Arising from those findings, Armed Support Units were introduced in every region in the Republic to provide a much more rapid response. Other reforms have also been implemented such as an expansion in the trained negotiator capacity in the Garda and clearer procedures and command structures at the scenes of live incidents.

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