Emergency Garda call-outs to volatile stand-offs, often in people’s homes, almost doubled in the first six months of 2021.
The Garda’s elite negotiation squad is now dealing with over three crisis incidents every week on average — nearly two-thirds of them believed to be related to mental health crises.
More than half of the cases involve people armed with knives or glass. In some cases, “multiple weapons” are involved, including firearms or petrol and, in one case, a chainsaw.
The Garda National Negotiation Unit (NNU) is dedicated to intervening in situations where a person has typically barricaded themselves into their home or their room and where the safety of others and/or of the person concerned is at risk.
Garda figures up to June 30, 2021, show:
- NNU was called out 82 times, compared to 43 occasions in the same period last year (+90%) and 93 times for all of 2020;
- Mental health barricades account for 35 cases (43%), while crisis intervention in situations of suicide or self-harm is involved in 17 cases (21%);
- Domestic/criminal barricades account for 13 (16%) of cases.
Garda HQ says the effects of alcohol, illegal drugs, and/or a failure to take prescribed medication are clearly noted as a factor in 10 incidents, though they believe this is “possibly much higher”.
A total of 78 people were negotiated with — 68 male and 10 female, with a rise in female cases.
“Sometimes, a subject may have been in possession of multiple weapons, or the scene itself may have cause multiple dangers,” a Garda report said.
A breakdown of the challenges gardaí face shows: 43 knives/glass or bladed weapons; 23 situations involving heights/rope; 14 suspected firearms; 10 cases of heights over water; and six cases involving petrol or gas. There were individual cases involving a chainsaw, medication, or a syringe.
Four of the cases (5%) were child rescue alerts and two of the incidents (2%) were murder-suicide cases.
The Armed Support Unit responded to 62 — or three quarters — of all incidents.
The Emergency Response Unit was requested at three of the most serious cases. Public order units assisted in three other cases.
Gardaí said mental health professionals were contacted on eight occasions “for advice or medical background information”.
It said that third party intermediaries were used in six of the cases.
Gardaí are to pilot crisis intervention teams — comprising gardaí and mental health professionals — as early as next April to respond to mental health emergencies.
They were recommended in 2009 and again, in 2018, by the Policing Commission.
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