Vol. 81, No. 1Ask an expert

Female police officer standing in front of an armoured vehicle.

Calling the shots

Incident commander considers safety on scene

As a critical incident commander, Supt. Lucie Dubois decides when and how to deploy specialized teams and equipment during a crisis. Credit: Serge Gouin, RCMP

When the RCMP responds to a crisis situation in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island deciding when to send in a tactical vehicle, bomb squad or canine unit is Supt. Lucie Dubois's call. As a critical incident commander for this region, she's one of six officers who rotate calling the shots on deploying specialized units. Patricia Vasylchuk spoke to Dubois about her role and the challenges.

When does an incident become critical?

It becomes critical when there's a high-level threat that requires a strategically planned tactical response that goes beyond what general duty police officers can provide, like when they need help from specialized units like the emergency response and explosives teams.

What incidents are common?

The majority of the incidents we respond to are for armed standoffs. Usually, it's a person who's barricaded themselves and is threatening suicide or threatening to hurt hostages.

What does a critical incident commander do?

A critical incident commander is in charge when the incident is unfolding. So initially, I would get a call from a dispatcher explaining the situation and what on-duty officers have done up to that point. From there, I conduct a risk assessment and determine if specialized teams are needed. When the situation warrants it, I deploy all the specialized teams, like Emergency Response Teams and Police Dog Services, as well as equipment. The critical incident commander is responsible for all planned actions of the specialized units and all the decisions on the ground.

What happens at the scene?

We set up a triangular command structure with all the people and technology we need. In each corner there's the emergency response team lead, the negotiators team lead, and us. Then, together, we decide the next steps. Local police are involved in the response as well. We're there to support them, because once we leave, they will carry on the investigation.

How do you make a decision?

The safety of everyone involved is the priority and that includes the person causing the incident. So we look at the threats, such as the suspect's background and current frame of mind, what weapons are involved, the risk to the public, and even the location and time of day. I also think about my officers. Even though they're well trained and capable, I'm still putting them at risk. We use a measured approach — so the least aggressive — to resolve each situation.

How does location determine the response?

Location often presents challenges whether it be rural or urban. It's very import for the specialized units to have the means to address issues such as distance, low cell reception or areas that can only be accessed via water ways, like Grand Manan Island. These units are constantly working with partner agencies like other police departments and with cell providers to build contingencies or use a different type of technology to overcome the challenges. So we adjust and respond accordingly.

What about weather?

We're able to respond just as well in the winter as we can in the summer. But having people contained in an area while we're negotiating means we have to consider the length of time and the cold.

How many calls do you get?

It varies. You can get three calls in one week or you can have a few weeks with nothing. Last year, we responded to about 20 calls in New Brunswick with full deployments.

How long before an incident is resolved?

In my experience, it's anywhere between four and 24 hours.

What makes it work?

Teamwork is crucial. We have a team of capable, highly trained professionals and specialized units that work well together. We'd never be able to do it without them. I feel 100 per cent confident in the team.

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