The Malta Independent 10 December 2022, Saturday
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‘You never know what you are going to come face to face with,’ RIU inspector

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 20 November 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 19 days ago

You never know what you are going to come face to face with, Inspector Raymond Joseph Azzopardi from the Rapid Intervention Unit (RIU) says about the kind of situations his unit deals with and the risks involved.

In an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Inspector Azzopardi provided an insight into the role of these front-line officers and the types of situations they are faced with. The RIU is made up of a team of officers who are constantly on the streets in police cars, the first responding officers, he said.

The Unit has one inspector, eight sergeants and 64 constables.

Inspector Azzopardi began his career as a district police officer. He then joined the RIU where he spent five-and-a-half years before joining the Special Interventions Unit where he spent a year-and-a-half. Once he reached the rank of inspector, he rejoined the RIU, where he has been for the past year and three months.

In terms of the risk RIU officers face, he said that there is always a risk. "You never know what you are going to come face to face with since you are the first officer to arrive on the scene.” RIU officers need to take instant decisions based on the situation, he explained.

When asked about situations he was involved in, he recalled two particular cases. The first involved a person locked inside a house who threatened to blow up a gas cylinder, he said. After three hours of trying to talk to this person, the officers had to gain entry and one police sergeant was shot in his foot during the operation. Another case he remembers was when a person called the control room saying that he/she had just killed two relatives. He remembers going on site and finding two dead bodies lying on top of each other with stab wounds.

These cases remained imprinted in his memory, he said.

Asked whether he often finds himself in situations where people are aggressive towards him, he believes that the introduction of body cameras has reduced the number of such instances.

“The public is aware that police officers have body cams. We switch them on for every interaction we have with the public.” In the past, when someone was aggressive or threatened officers, it would be their word against that of the police officer.  “Today, we have body cams which are clear evidence.”

The police force has a wellbeing policy in place for officers who face traumatic experiences, with an employee support programme, he said.

Asked what goes through his mind when faced with someone being aggressive towards him or someone who is armed, he said “it’s not easy”. There would be a risk to the officers who could get hurt and a risk of third parties getting hurt, he said. 

At that moment, “officers need to be capable of taking split-second decisions in terms of what equipment they will use. Everything depends on the context of the situation. There is no right way" he said, adding that the context of each situation is different.

The most common type of crime reports the RIU responds to is breaching the public peace, involving fights or arguments, he said. Many times it would probably be a verbal argument, possibly at most they would have become a bit physical, but sometimes it would have escalated and would be a case involving a stabbing, he said.

The inspector said that the officers forming part of the squad are very dedicated to their work.

In order to apply for the RIU nowadays, an officer must have been in the Police Force for at least three years. “Once a call for applications is issued for more officers to be engaged with the RIU, physical training, shooting training and simulator assessments are held. An interview is also held and those candidates who pass all the assignments would be listed by order of merit, and when necessary, as many new officers as the Unit needs will be brought in.”

In terms of on-the-job training, RIU officers undergo physical training during working hours, he said. RIU officers also have training exercises on the different firearms the RIU uses, simulator training which is scenario based, control and restraint training, VIP protection training, training on stopping vehicles and academic training within the Police academy, he added.

Most of the training RIU officers receive is held together with the Special Intervention Unit (SIU), he said, so that they would be able to better coordinate on the job.

Explaining the role of the SIU, he said that when it comes to certain calibre jobs, which entail certain levels of risk, the SIU is called in and RIU officers are trained to know what to do in cases where the SIU is deployed, he said.

In terms of equipment, the difference between the RIU officers and those in most other sections is that the former are always armed, and will have a taser and firearm, he said, while other officers might need to bring them out from the safe at the station. “Every RIU officer is also assigned a bulletproof vest.”

The RIU will soon start using Bolawraps, he said.  “It is a piece of equipment that shoots a kevlar rope that then turns round someone's arms or legs. It is a form of restraint.” The project will start in the RIU and if it is effective, it will then spread to the rest of the Police Force, he explained.

The Force will also change the baton it is using, he said, to an expandable baton, which would make it easier for officers to carry on their person.

Asked whether the RIU needs more officers, he said that police forces all over the world are facing difficulties to employ more officers. “You never have enough… as I mentioned before, the people here are dedicated to the job; when the hour of need came we always found them available and they even came in during their off hours to assist when there is something big.”

 

 

 

 

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