Gardai need to be given modern equipment


The recent conference of the Garda Representative Association called for additional defensive equipment for gardai. Ian Doyle has some suggestions

The Garda often finds itself dealing with a worse class of offender than police elsewhere, in London for instance. For example, syringe attacks do not occur in London. Syringe attacks seem to be the sole preserve of the Dublin petty criminal.

It may seem astonishing, but even more so is that gardaí have yet to be issued with such equipment as extendable ASP batons, CS spray, or body armour.

The Garda baton, which we are all quite familiar with following the recent Reclaim the Streets demonstration in Dublin, is an antiquated old piece of kit, which resembles a wooden chair leg.

ASP batons are the latest type in use by most modern police forces across the world.

They are also known as gravity friction-lock batons, meaning they extend telescopically to around 20 inches with the flick of a wrist, although they are available in a variety of lengths.

In its closed state, the ASP is a compact 7.5 inches, which eradicates any problems associated with nightsticks and side-handled batons, which can get in the way during a foot pursuit, or even when getting in and out of a police car.

The ASP, save for its rubber-grip handle, is made entirely of metal. Screwed into the striking end of the ASP is a weighted metal ball which assists in causing the required motor dysfunction when used on the arms or legs of an attacker.

If such a weapon were to be swung about with wild abandon, striking the head, neck, or other vulnerable areas, the resultant in juries would be devastating, even fatal.

Defensive sprays are another tactical option many gardaí are calling for.

CS spray, as issued to the Metropolitan Police, is said to contain chemicals similar to those used in paint stripper, but it has not yet been proven to have any permanent or long-term side effects.

Its effects are only temporary, though certainly unpleasant. The active ingredients of the spray are CS crystals, which account for only five per cent of the solution's make-up. The crystals react with moisture in the eyes, mouth, nose, throat and even sweat, to produce an incapacitating burning sensation, which causes the eyes and nose to run uncontrollably, worsening the effects, and making it impossible to see and very painful to try.

The spray is not without its problems. It does not affect one in 10 people.

If sprayed at someone with a certain police or military background, the effects of CS can be significantly lessened, due to a tolerance in that individual brought on by training.

It affects some more badly than others. A colleague and friend of mine sprayed a man with CS who was advancing towards him armed with a three-foot sword, only to be told: "You'll have to do better than that." Fortunately, the man was talked into putting down his weapon.

It later transpired that the officer had been issued with an inert training spray, most likely water.

There are problems associated with using CS spray in crowds, which can cause widespread panic and trampling, and it does not confine itself to the person at whom it is discharged.

If fired directly into the face from under a metre away, any spray can cause permanent eye damage.

The public perception is that the UK police are unarmed. However, under UK law, CS spray is classified as a section 5 firearm.

Body armour is another essential piece of equipment available to the modern police officer.

The Metropolitan Police developed the Metvest, a kevlar vest to be worn covertly, which provides both ballistic protection and defence against knives and other edged weapons.

It was designed to be worn covertly perhaps in an attempt to preserve the image of the friendly London bobby.

It is cumbersome and uncomfortable. Such was the discomfort, that one day in 1997 PC Nina McKay, of the Territorial Support Group, removed hers to execute better a rapid entry for a house search. A man armed with a knife was waiting inside the front door and PC McKay was fatally stabbed.

Only recently, the Metvest has been replaced with a more practical overt style of body armour, which zips up the front, and can be removed and replaced as necessary.

Together with the proper and essential officer safety training, and perhaps an independent police complaints authority, the Garda Síochána could be issued with this equipment and brought into line with the other modern European police forces.

Ian Doyle is a former member of the Metropolitan Police in London