Armed policing

Armed deployment

In situations requiring the deployment of authorised firearms officers (AFOs), police decision making and response is directed by available information and the assessment of threat.

The National Decision Model (NDM) assists with this decision-making process and provides a structure for documenting decisions and their rationale.

Police officers have a positive duty to protect the public from harm – a duty of care to all involved must be the overriding consideration. The nature and urgency of police action will take account of any time imperative related to public safety as well as the skills and capability of officers available.

National Decision Model

The National Decision Model (NDM) is a decision-making model used throughout the police service. It is designed to assist operational officers, planners, advisers and commanders to manage their response to a situation in a reasonable and proportionate way.

The NDM is a scalable model that can be applied before, during and after an incident requiring the deployment of AFOs. It provides a framework for recording command decisions and the rationale behind them and can also be used to brief officers involved in the response.

The NDM is driven by information and intelligence. It is a continuous cycle, constantly reviewed in light of new information and assessment that will, ultimately, affect the response to the incident. The model prompts the decision maker to take action on the basis of the most up-to-date information and intelligence available at that time.

Each element of the model may be worked through and reviewed consciously or subconsciously. Decisions and the rationale behind them, can be recorded against each element.

NDM phases

The NDM has a number of phases or components. Each provides the user with an area for focus and consideration: 

  • gather information and intelligence
  • assess threat and risk and develop a working strategy
  • consider powers and policy
  • identify options and contingencies
  • take action and review what happened.

In a dynamically evolving incident it will not always be possible to segregate thinking or response according to each phase of the model.

It may not be practical or possible, given the speed at which an incident may evolve, to articulate each decision and rationale when the overriding requirement is for immediate decision making and action.

In such circumstances it will be necessary and appropriate for officers undertaking both command and tactical response to use the professional knowledge, skills and experience which they have developed across their police service and life experience.

Gather information and intelligence

In firearms related situations, information and intelligence, combined with the experience of those responsible for directing the police response, will assist in determining the most appropriate response to a given situation. The assessment of information is a dynamic and continuing process throughout the life of an incident or operation. All involved have a responsibility for updating information and ensuring that, as far as possible, a full intelligence picture is maintained and that this is conveyed as appropriate to those involved.

When gathering information, the tactical firearms commander must ensure that, as far as time permits, information and intelligence is appropriately assessed, graded and where possible verified.

Information and intelligence should be passed to officers as necessary for the roles that they are performing, see APP on dissemination of intelligence. It is important that commanders are regularly updated on changes to information and intelligence in a timely and appropriate manner. These updates will enable the review of strategic objectives, tactical objectives and any tactical parameters set to take place.

Commanders should seek verification of intelligence and information, be aware of the potential for reported information to be wrong and be aware that there may be intelligence gaps or failures.

Gathering information

Where only limited information is available, it is important to establish and maintain an effective information gathering process at an early stage. In protracted or more complex incidents there may be a need to establish a dedicated intelligence function in support of the tactical firearms commander.

The initial response to a situation requiring the deployment of AFOs depends on the intelligence available, the quality of the information received and the resources available for deployment.

Considerations should include:

  • assessment of the current situation, including any threat being posed and to whom
  • persons already subjected to harm and requiring medical attention
  • reported existence of weapons
  • situational information including location and any associated hazards or risks
  • information available about the subject
  • information available about the subject’s associates
  • any community impact factors associated with the event or location.
Assessment of the current situation

An assessment of the situation should take account of:

  • the subject’s physical capacity
  • the subject’s emotional or mental state
  • the subject’s capacity to understand what is happening
  • any cultural, religious and ethnic considerations relevant to the individual or group
  • the locality in which the incident is taking place.

The availability of such information will be subject to the circumstances, time available and level of risk. Consideration may be given to obtaining information from sources such as a friend or family member, locally based police officer, a health professional or a representative from a community group.

Assess threat and risk and develop a working strategy

An accurate, multi-dimensional threat assessment will ultimately allow for an effective prioritised strategy and the formulation of a proportionate response. The aim is to protect the public by the most appropriate method, balancing the risk of harm to the public in both the short and longer term. See sustained public protection.

As an incident progresses, the regular review of available information and intelligence will ensure that the threat assessment remains relevant.

Threat assessment: definition

A threat assessment refers to the analysis of potential or actual harm to people, the probability of it occurring and the consequences or impact should it occur. It is based on fact, information and intelligence and will vary over time. A threat assessment is used to develop a prioritised working strategy and ultimately forms the basis on which the proportionality of the police response will be judged.

A threat assessment:

  • should be based on information known at the time
  • may be supported by historic information
  • should take account of the nature of any threat anticipated and its proximity
  • should identify to whom and under what circumstances the threat may occur
  • should describe any consequences or impacts
  • should take account of the impact of change
  • may take the form of an analytical report or problem or subject profile.

Where possible, threat assessments should be time specific so that actions can be prioritised accordingly. It is important to evaluate how police action or inaction may impact on the threat assessment.

Accuracy

The more accurate and specific the analysis, the greater the likelihood of being able to reduce or mitigate the threat, although it may still not be possible to eliminate the risk of harm. A threat assessment is only as effective as the information and intelligence that is available to base it on and the capability and competency of staff to analyse it in an accurate and timely manner.

The flow of information and intelligence will constantly change and this needs to be considered in a dynamic and changing operational environment.

Threat assessments will determine the likelihood and extent of harm that may be caused through the actions of any person. It is based on the interaction of the known or suspected capability and intent of an indvidual subject or group. It is a continuous process and one in which commanders, planners, intelligence officers, AFOs and those involved in operational deployments will be engaged, both consciously and subconsciously as they undertake their respective functions.

Analysis

Once the threat has been identified, it will enable a specific individual threat assessment in relation to all identified parties to be formulated. The assessment should determine whether the likelihood for harm is high, medium, low or unknown in each individual case. The identification of an unknown level of risk usually indicates a gap in information/intelligence which will need to be addressed.

Where one or more groups or individuals are identified as being at the same level of risk, evaluating their proximity to the threat may assist to prioritise actions or reduce or mitigate that risk.

Working strategy

A working strategy may start to be developed once information is received and can be formalised when a threat assessment has taken place.

The strategy and the rationale behind it as well as any revisions or amendments should be recorded and will form an audit trail.

The strategy should be regularly reviewed, particularly when a change or handover of command takes place.

Consider powers and policy

In determining the action that should be taken, consideration should be given to which powers and policies are applicable and necessary in the circumstances to achieve the objectives set out within the tactical plan.

Considerations should include:

  • under which common law or statutory provision the proposed action is being taken, (eg. stopping, searching or detaining an individual, stopping a vehicle or entering a building or structure)
  • implications of any action under the Human Rights Act 1998 and potential infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) articles – are the powers to be actioned proportionate, legal, accountable and necessary?
  • whether a warrant is required
  • whether the criteria for the deployment of AFOs are met
  • whether the desired objective could be met in a less intrusive manner
  • whether the operation involves surveillance, and what level of authority is required under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIP(S)A)
  • how closely the proposed action meets the strategic firearms commander’s strategy.

Consideration should also be given to whether there is APP or force policies, guidance or procedure relating to the proposed actions.

Identify options and contingencies

As soon as the first information is received, generic tactical options may be considered and selected. This may include the deployment of AFOs as a contingency, or to carry out an investigative assessment and take whatever action is deemed appropriate. As more information becomes available, tactical options should be further considered in the light of evaluated intelligence and the relevant powers and policy.

Generic tactical options set out the different ways in which a particular objective can be undertaken in a manner which minimises risk and harm. They are broad descriptions of the options the police may have available to them when dealing with an incident which requires the deployment of armed officers. Along with the primary aim of securing public safety, consideration should be given to whether it is possible to identify, locate and contain the subject and take appropriate action to neutralise the threat posed.

Options

Generic tactical options to consider include:

1. Wait

Before selecting any other option, consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate or necessary in the circumstances to take immediate action.

It may be, for example, more appropriate to record information and allow further time to gather additional information or intelligence that will enable other options to be considered.

The key issue to be determined is whether a delay in the police response would create additional risks to the public or expose any persons to harm.

2. Take mitigating action

Mitigating action is designed to minimise harm and can include:

  • high-visibility police presence
  • provision of protection
  • action to minimise the subject’s capability.

3. Keep the subject under observation

There may be benefits to keeping the subject under observation, either overtly or covertly. Where this option is proposed, consideration should be given to the skills needed, and whether authority is required under the RIPA or RIP(S)A.

4. Investigative assessment

Consideration should be given to deploying AFOs to carry out an investigative assessment.

This may include AFOs taking discreet action to gather sufficient information on the nature or existence of a threat, or to gather intelligence.

The use of AFOs for this purpose would enable them to be in a position to immediately contain the situation should the need arise, and to take action to neutralise the threat if necessary.

5. Contain the area around the subject

Containment is an option when the subject is believed to be in a particular location. The objective of this is to isolate the subject or place limits on their permitted movement. The containment can be either static or, in some circumstances, may move with the subject. It may also allow time for more detailed planning of a police response.

In certain situations containment may require two groups of officers. These are usually referred to as:

  • outer cordon
  • inner cordon.

Depending on the topography of the scene, it may be possible to use unarmed officers on the outer cordon.

In containing a subject, armed officers should take into account ‘arcs of fire’ in the event of them having to discharge a firearm, and have defined areas of responsibility. This is important for the safety of everyone. Officers should also consider the area behind a given subject or object and the implications should any shots be discharged, including the potential for shots to ricochet.

Containment may be overt or covert and may be used at any stage during the deployment of AFOs.

6. Communicate with the subject

Communicating with the subject may necessitate a visual or verbal challenge. On occasions, this may lead to a subject engaging AFOs in some form of dialogue.

Communication

Where circumstances permit, AFOs should identify themselves as armed officers and give a clear direction to the subject, allowing sufficient time for the directions to be observed unless to do so would unduly place any person at risk, or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident.

Oral or visual warnings should make the subject aware of the nature of the armed police intervention. These should serve as a clear warning to them and make it clear that force and/or firearms may be used. All AFOs should receive training in communicating with subjects. On first verbal contact, officers should normally:

  • identify themselves as police officers and state that they are armed
  • clarify who it is they are seeking to communicate with
  • communicate in a clear and appropriate manner.

Where weapons are fitted with torches or laser sights, officers should consider the effects of their use during any confrontation.

Negotiation

Officers are encouraged to try to reduce the threat level or neutralise it through early negotiation. While negotiating skills are included in all AFO initial training, ongoing negotiations should be undertaken by a trained negotiator. This is an officer trained to negotiate with subjects to resolve an operation peacefully, and to gather information which may assist as part of the intelligence-gathering process. When necessary negotiators should be deployed as soon as practicable.

7. Decisive action

To take decisive action is to intervene, intercept or challenge a subject. Decisive action can be applied to a subject who is in the open, in a vehicle, or in a building or other structure. This may be undertaken in a slow and deliberate manner, or in fast time with the benefit of surprise.

Consideration of the ways in which a particular situation can be resolved with the least risk of harm allows for feasible specific tactics to be identified. There are specific firearms tactics related to this option (tactics can be described as a method of working using agreed processes to meet specific objectives).

Each tactic requires different levels of training, technical knowledge, skill, teamwork and experience and may involve the use of other specialist officers and equipment. In formulating an appropriate tactical response, the tactical firearms commander, with the assistance of a tactical advisor (if one is available), will identify the most appropriate specific tactics, as detailed in the National Police Firearms Training Curriculum.

Strategic and tactical firearms commanders should consider each option, having regard to:

  • feasibility of success measured against the strategy
  • acceptability of consequences
  • risks involved in taking forward a specific option or taking alternative action.

Feasible specific tactics

In considering the specific tactics, the tactical advisor and the commander should consider whether:

  • a given tactic or combination of tactics will achieve all or part of the working strategy
  • identified threats are likely to be reduced or eliminated
  • the tactics are proportionate to the threat posed and are ECHR compliant
  • the tactics are within any tactical parameters set.

Commanders, tactical advisors and AFOs should consider whether an overt or covert approach or a combination of both would be most appropriate. Operational constraints may include:

  • the immediacy of any threat
  • the limits of the information known
  • the availability of sufficient resources, people and equipment for the various options
  • the training and competency of officers involved in the operation for the role they will be expected to perform
  • the amount of time available
  • the impact of the police action on the public and wider community
  • legal constraints
  • environmental considerations
  • the result of any risk assessment.
Contingencies

Operational planning should identify contingencies at an early stage. These should address what are often referred to as the ‘what ifs’. They need to be reviewed as the situation develops, taking account of emerging and/or changing circumstances including:

  • the subject’s intention, actions or behaviour (in particular the likelihood of fight, flight or compliance at the point of contact)
  • information and intelligence
  • the environment
  • the actions of others involved.

The potential for intelligence failures or gaps in the information known should also be considered.

While it is impractical to identify every possible outcome to a given situation, commanders should identify appropriate contingencies based on the:

  • probability of the outcome occurring
  • potential impact of the outcome on the strategy and tactical plan
  • potential risks to individuals involved in the incident and the response.

Take action and review what happened

When a course of action has been decided on, commanders should direct resources and ensure that those involved are appropriately briefed. Actions to be taken include:

  • briefing (including contingencies)
  • health and safety risk assessment
  • operational deployment or activation of a tactical option
  • consideration of post-deployment issues
  • medical assistance
  • community impact assessment
  • explanation and apology.

Officers need to be clear on which tactical option they are required to carry out and the tactical objective they are to accomplish. Where activation of a particular tactical option is time critical, there should, where practicable, be clearly agreed procedures for communicating any decision to defer, abort or initiate a specific tactic.

Reviewing the effect of the action taken is a distinct and crucial part of this stage of the NDM. The result of the action taken is new information which may necessitate a further application of the model.

Considerations could include such things as whether the identified threats have been reduced or eliminated and whether the action taken achieved all or any of the objectives of the working strategy.

Health and safety risk assessment

A risk assessment gauging the risk to staff of working in a particular location or manner is a legal requirement of all employers, including the police service.

ACPO firmly acknowledges that those involved in armed deployments are required to make critical judgements in the most difficult of situations and often in life-threatening circumstances. Their contribution in helping to resolve these situations and in providing protection to the public and other police officers is highly valued by the Police Service. It is, therefore, important that the safety, welfare and rights of these officers are appropriately addressed by ACPO.

The risk assessment will cover the hazards and risks associated with the location of the operation, the subject, any potential victims, the public and any hazards arising from the tactical options proposed.

A risk assessment should be carried out for each viable tactical option.

The formality and complexity of the risk assessment will depend on the time and information available.

Briefing

All staff involved in situations where AFOs are deployed must be given as full a briefing as possible. The briefing should include the objectives and tactics that have been authorised. The level of additional detail given will depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time and the time available.

1. Tools for briefing

The key headings in NDM should be used as a basis for briefing and debriefing officers. This has the advantage of providing continuity of approach during the planning and operational phases of a deployment. The use of the NDM in this way also enables any additional information to be reviewed or updated as the situation develops.

Other models such as the IIMARCH model can be used to develop the content of the briefing.

Officers providing briefings should stress the aim of any operation including, specifically, the individual responsibility of officers and the legal powers relevant to the deployment.

2. Effective communication of the briefing

The tactical firearms commander should ensure that AFOs and other deployed officers are briefed using the most appropriate means of communication. Commanders should confirm their lines of communication to officers (AFOs and unarmed) once they have been deployed.

3. Briefing content

The briefing should outline the intended course of action and incorporate a range of contingencies. These should provide officers with as much clarity as possible for the role that they may have to undertake and any tactical parameters which have been set.

The tactical firearms commander should ensure that information, intelligence and detail of reliability is included in the briefing where it is relevant to the working strategy.

The National Intelligence Model provides guidance on how commanders can assess the reliability and strength of intelligence.

Where time permits, briefings should inform officers of the procedures to be followed at the conclusion of the event to which they have been deployed. This should include the procedures to adopt in respect of prisoner handling, scene preservation, evidence collection and return to a location where post-deployment procedures will be undertaken. These may range from officers making notes and completing records, through to structured debriefing, as well as attending to organisational and welfare issues. See post-deployment.

Officers conducting briefings should be mindful that the content of the briefing may directly affect the response of armed officers to any subsequent perceived threat from a subject.

4. Who should conduct the briefing

Tactical firearms commanders should consider drawing on the expertise of other staff in briefings, where this may be of assistance (eg, operational firearms commanders and intelligence officers).

In some circumstances, it may be desirable for operational firearms commanders to brief their teams on specific tasks following the briefing by the tactical firearms commander. The tactical firearms Ccmmander must be made aware of any such briefings.

5. Keeping a record

A record should be maintained of all briefings, including the persons present and information given. The method of recording may include:

  • contemporaneous notes
  • use of formal briefing documents
  • audio recording
  • ICT systems
  • command and control logs.

As far as practicable, the most comprehensive method of providing an accurate record of the briefing should be used. Where officers are being briefed while travelling, or are in a remote location, consideration should be given to using radio or telephone recording to provide a record of the briefing. The absence of secure communication may, however, place constraints on this option in situations where classified information is being referred to.

Operational deployment

AFOs must be continually updated with information relevant to their role during their deployment.

Officers should, whenever possible, confirm their arrival at the scene of an incident or at a pre-determined rendezvous point. This will ensure that commanders are aware of the location of AFOs. It is also important from a personal safety perspective.

On arrival at the scene officers will undertake roles as directed. There will, however, be circumstances in which officers are required to make their own assessment of the situation and
act accordingly. This will extend to identifying, locating, containing and, where possible, neutralising the threat posed.

Medical assistance

When planning operations where AFOs are being deployed, tactical firearms commanders should consider where and how emergency medical aid would be provided if this is required. This should be based on risk assessment and may, in addition to the availability of officers trained in relevant first aid, include placing an ambulance on standby.

Forces should ensure that agreements are in place with local emergency healthcare services to provide medical support to police operations, including those involving the deployment of AFOs.

Community impact assessment

The strategic firearms commander should consider the need for a community impact assessment, the extent and formality of which will depend on the nature of the situations in which the police are involved and the time available. On some occasions the community impact assessment will be a dynamic process undertaken simultaneously by AFOs, local officers and all those in command roles.

Whenever time permits, however, a comprehensive community impact assessment should be completed in order to:

  • identify community, diversity and human rights issues which may be affected
  • consider action to retain or promote community confidence and reassurance in the police action.
Note: Local independent advisory groups (IAGs) may include members who are community impact assessment (CIA) trained and available to offer advice and guidance where there may be cultural factors that should be considered as part of the response.

Assessments should be regularly reviewed to take account of emerging issues and may involve cross-boundary considerations.

The impact of armed police deployment on a community

The visible deployment of AFOs may have an impact on the community. Where police officers have discharged a firearm and an individual is killed or injured as a result, this may have a significant impact on the community in which the incident occurs as well as on communities to which the individual has affiliation.

Effective management of the situation should enhance the trust and confidence of the community. The consistency, robustness and management of situations involving the deployment of AFOs has the potential to cultivate good public relations with the community.

The manner in which the police service approaches these situations can also have a significant effect on any follow-up investigation.

In these circumstances, community impact assessments must be carried out and consideration should be given to consulting the relevant independent advisory group or the independent investigative authority. See post-deployment.

Explanation and apology

There will be occasions when the reason for police action may not be apparent to the public. This may cause concern or anxiety, for example, to onlookers, relatives, neighbours and subjects innocent of any wrongdoing.

In such circumstances commanders should consider providing a suitable explanation for the actions taken. This may include visiting the people particularly affected (ideally by a supervisor directly involved in the incident, so long as this does not cause a conflict of interest), or distributing an information leaflet setting out the circumstances of the police action. Some form of apology may be required on occasions.

Depending on the effectiveness of the operation, forces may wish to ensure that the people affected are aware of all the support available to them. In appropriate circumstances they should be made aware of their options for seeking redress (for example, the police complaints process).

Record keeping

Individual commanders must be prepared to account for their decisions and to explain their rationale at the time that those decisions were taken. All plans should be documented, including options rejected or progressed, together with the reasons why such conclusions were drawn and by whom.

Incidents involving police officers’ use of force or firearms may be the subject of scrutiny in a number of forums. Forces must ensure that the records kept are sufficient to meet these needs. Records and logs maintained by or on behalf of commanders and tactical advisors will be reviewed during operations as well as during post-deployment audits. A comprehensive record of key actions and decisions made by commanders, and the advice given by tactical advisors, in situations where AFOs may be or have been deployed should be maintained in accordance with national minimum standards.

Dealing with people

Police officers at or surrounding the scene of an incident involving the deployment of AFOs will encounter people in a number of different contexts. The following guidance outlines some general considerations for all those involved.

Handling subjects

The close proximity of subjects to officers with firearms at the final stages of an incident presents risks. These stages are likely to be the most dangerous phase of an incident and constitute the subject’s last chance to escape.

Officers with weapons are at risk of being disarmed by subjects unless care is taken. Every effort should be made to have sufficient officers present to provide a suitable response. The use of less lethal options, including police dogs and negotiators, should be considered, wherever possible, in order to enable the police officers at the scene to deal with any emerging situation.

Consideration should be given to providing immediate medical assistance and early support, which may include the services provided by family liaison officers.

All officers should, as far as practicable, remain forensically aware when handling subjects. Operational commanders should ensure that forensic issues, such as the risk of cross-contamination, are taken into account in the planning of operations and the briefing and deployment of officers.

Hostage situations

In situations where an armed subject has taken hostages or become closely involved with members of the public, it may be difficult to distinguish hostages and other persons from the perpetrators.

In these circumstances it may be necessary for officers to regard all persons as a potential threat, until everyone can be isolated and their identity checked.

Hostages should be treated with consideration. Officers should bear in mind that they may have been subjected to life-threatening, degrading or humiliating treatment, and may have experienced emotions ranging from disbelief to absolute terror. Police action should be designed to minimise the risks to all those involved and avoid unnecessarily raising the level of anxiety or confusion of hostages who have been released or rescued. Hostages sometimes, as a result of a shared ordeal, form an affinity with the hostage taker or their cause, and may voluntarily or under coercion become involved in action designed to assist their captors. The police response should, therefore, take account of these factors.

Environmental and behavioural influencers

Environmental and behavioural influencers can affect a subject’s behaviour and their response to any contact with police officers. These influencers (sometimes referred to as moderators) can include issues such as:

  • crowd dynamics and peer group pressure
  • environments where communication is difficult
  • sensory impairment or communication difficulties, for example, hearing impairment or where the subject may have difficulty in understanding or communicating in English
  • the effects of drugs or alcohol
  • subjects whose movements are impaired or exaggerated by reason of a medical condition
  • subjects who have learning difficulties.
Communication issues

Where there are known environmental and behavioural influencers involved in a situation, the following may assist in improving communication with the subject:

  • prior intelligence gathering
  • early use of interpreters for language or communication difficulties
  • early use of trained negotiators, either directly or to advise others.

When, during the planning phase of an operation, there is intelligence to suggest that communication may be difficult due to language, sensory impairment or a subject with learning disabilities, ways to address this should be included in the plan. Considerations may extend to involving someone with the required language skills, or the use of prepared phrases or written signs.

Officers should also consider how cultural differences may result in persons responding differently when verbally challenged, and be aware of how their language and tactics could be interpreted.

Children and young people

The potential for children or young persons to be involved in gun related or other violent crimes, both as victims and perpetrators, should be recognised by forces within their threat and risk assessments, and subsequently, their training.

Special consideration should be given to situations where the use of force places children at risk. This is particularly relevant in public order situations where children may be amongst a crowd and be placed in danger.

Intelligence relating to subject behaviour and/or condition

Where appropriate, early contact should be made with healthcare professionals and/or social workers for information, intelligence and advice concerning a subject’s behaviour and condition.

If information and intelligence reveals the presence of a factor which can influence behaviour and alter response, police should take this into account when considering their approach.

Officers must be aware of how their presence and tactics might be interpreted by the subject. It is important, however, that the basic principles of tactics are complied with in order to reduce the potential threat by and/or to the subject as soon as practicable.

Defusing the situation

The following actions can help create opportunities for the subject and officers to have more time and space to defuse the situation:

  • use of effective cover by police officers
  • evacuation of immediate area
  • being prepared to back off (if safe)
  • giving available space and time to the subject when considering containment
  • early negotiation or negotiation advice.

This may enable:

  • tension to be diffused
  • officers to have more time to assess the person’s vulnerability
  • the effects of alcohol or drugs to wear off
  • positive communication and contact to be established
  • the level of mental or emotional distress to decrease.

This may result in more positive and constructive communication with the subject, allowing the situation to be dealt with in a controlled manner.

Dealing with individuals who are emotionally or mentally distressed

The term emotionally or mentally distressed is used to describe individuals who may behave in an unexpected, extreme or challenging manner as a result of a mental health issue or emotional distress.

The fact that the subject is emotionally or mentally distressed does not in any way reduce the harm they may cause to themselves or others if the incident is not resolved. However, officers must be aware that an inappropriate or disproportionate response to someone experiencing emotional or mental distress could, itself, escalate the situation, causing greater harm to the subject or to others.

Individuals who are emotionally or mentally distressed may respond to the arrival of armed officers in an unexpected or unpredictable manner. This can be caused by a range of factors, for example, mental ill health or extreme distress, which may on occasions be aggravated or caused by drugs or alcohol, or the absence of prescribed medication. Failure to recognise and understand why someone may not be complying with instructions or communication could increase the tension of a situation.

Negotiators and AFOs must have an understanding of how emotionally or mentally distressed individuals may respond to their presence and any visual or verbal contact made with them – see guidance on identifying options and contingencies.

Officers should also consider how their language and tactics could be interpreted. When dealing with emotionally or mentally distressed individuals, it can be difficult to predict potential behaviour or responses to any given visual or verbal stimuli.

Indicators of emotional or mental distress

Awareness of the factors that may indicate whether an individual is experiencing emotional or mental distress can improve the identification, management and monitoring of any potential risk posed either to or by the subject. They include:

  • previous history, for example, violence, self-harm, suicide attempts
  • alcohol or drugs consumed or present
  • recent negative life event, eg, divorce, separation, bereavement
  • diagnosis of schizophrenia
  • depression
  • experiencing a psychotic episode or crisis, including hearing voices, or auditory, visual or sensory hallucinations
  • experiencing delusions or feelings of paranoia or of being
  • controlled by others
  • preoccupation with violence and/or violent fantasies
  • extreme agitation and excitement, particularly if escalating
  • apparent difficulty understanding and cooperating with instructions
  • impulsive or unpredictable emotions or behaviour
  • repetitive threats, especially if specific or focused
  • apparent lack of awareness of severity of the situation and potential risks
  • statements of intent to self-harm or die by suicide.

These indicators are purely a guide and cannot be guaranteed to establish, either by their presence or absence, to what extent an individual is experiencing emotional or mental distress and exactly how an armed officer should respond.

Assessment of the threat, posed both by the subject and to the subject, within any given crisis situation is a continuous dynamic process.

Indicators of a severe medical condition

Someone with a severe medical condition may exhibit one or more than one of the following symptoms and behaviours.

  • apparently inexplicable and/or aggressive behaviour
  • apparently confused thinking
  • disorientation
  • hallucinations
  • acute feelings of paranoia
  • panic
  • shouting
  • violence towards others
  • unexpected physical strength
  • apparent ineffectiveness of incapacitant sprays
  • significantly diminished sense of pain
  • sweating, fever, heat intolerance
  • sudden tranquillity after frenzied activity.

Where a subject has been arrested and is exhibiting these characteristics, early medical advice must be sought and the subject must be kept under visual observation. This is particularly important in respect of restrained subjects who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or who are extremely obese or very small.

The method of restraint and transport should ensure that their windpipe does not become blocked and that they are not transported in a face down position as this can cause positional asphyxia.

Provoked shootings

The term provoked shooting refers to a situation in which a subject engages in life-threatening behaviour or criminal activity in an attempt to create a situation where a police officer will shoot them.

However, it should not be assumed that every person who points a weapon at the police or makes statements about being armed, fully appreciates or intends the consequences of their actions or words.

Where a person appears to be engaging in life-threatening behaviour or criminal activity with the intention of creating a situation where a police officer will shoot them, officers should consider how their communication with the person and their actions may be perceived.

Officers should consider the full range of tactical options, including the use of less lethal weapons.

Other persons involved

Other persons involved may be able to provide information which could be of value in tactical planning, and also provide evidence in subsequent investigations.

If it is inappropriate to take full statements from witnesses (including police officers) during the initial stages of the investigation, then a record should be made of their first accounts in accordance with normal evidential procedures.

The safety and welfare of witnesses should always be a prime consideration.

Police responders

The initial police responders to arrive at the scene of an incident will, in many cases, be unarmed. Where it becomes apparent that this is an incident to which AFOs will be deployed, the safety of unarmed officers and police staff and the impact that they may have on the situation needs to be considered.

However, subject to risk assessment, unarmed responders may provide a visible deterrent or reassurance. They can move potential victims or other vulnerable persons from locations where harm may occur, or gather information and report back. Those directing the use of unarmed responders should provide them with clear instructions on what they are required to do and on what they should not attempt to do.

Although negotiating principles are included in all initial training of AFOs, this is unlikely to be the case for unarmed responders attending the scene. Initial, unarmed responders may be confronted by a subject attempting to engage them in some form of communication. This should not be ignored and responders may try to reduce the threat level or neutralise it by early communication with the subject. Unarmed responders should not do this, however, if by doing so they would place themselves or members of the public in danger.

  • stay safe – think about your own and the public’s safety
  • see – what is happening and where
  • tell – communicate, describe incident/type of weapon
  • act – stay safe, update, observe/contain.

These principles may also be relevant to AFOs who arrive at the scene of a developing incident.

Need to cite this article in your essay, paper or report? Please use:

College of Policing (2014) : Armed deployment [Internet]. http://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/armed-policing/armed-deployment/ [Accessed 20 October 2014]

Last modified: 16 October 2014