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New RCMP training reinforces human rights and de-escalation

The highly skilled Tactical Support Groups provide support during public order operations, assist specialized policing teams, and reinforce RCMP detachments during emergencies. Credit: RCMP


The RCMP operates a number of Tactical Support Group (TSG) units across the country covering every province and territory. The highly skilled teams provide support during public order operations, assist specialized policing teams, and reinforce RCMP detachments during emergencies such as floods and wildfires.

The units are responsible for responding to large gatherings and demonstrations. They're adding a new role to sharpen their focus on human rights and de-escalation and taking on new duties supporting other teams.

A new role

Part of the modernization efforts include training officers for the new Public Order Tactical Advisor (POTAC) role. The training prepares TSG officers to work in a specialized position supporting incident commanders with important advice during large public gatherings and demonstrations.

At a POTAC training course last fall, officers studied previous public order operations, completed scenario-based exercises, where event outcomes changed based on their advice, and learned more methods for defusing tense situations.

"This is a brand new program," says Sgt. Darwin Tetreault with the RCMP's National Tactical Support Group Program in Ottawa. "The POTAC officer isn't making decisions for the commander, but they're engaged early and often, and are aware of all the options from a public order perspective."

An appropriate setting

Tetreault says the location of the training course — Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights — was deliberately chosen to reinforce the importance of human rights in their work.

On the first day of training, officers took a guided tour of the museum and were tasked to find a quote about human rights that they found compelling. They discussed what they found as a group and copied the words to a whiteboard that stayed at the front of the classroom for the duration of the course.

"The venue and that exercise changed the atmosphere of the course and changed the attitude of some members in regard to looking at protests as a human right, not just a constitutional right in this country," says Tetreault.

Providing support and advice

During an event, a public order tactical advisor works with an incident commander by providing advice and communicating with the TSG. Their guidance can be beneficial if a commander doesn't regularly encounter public order operations.

"They're here to help the commanders," says S/Sgt. Mike Balmaceda, the NCO in charge of provincial criminal operations support in Nova Scotia and leader of the TSG in the province. "They're trained to think outside the box and provide potential consequences, both positive and negative, to any and all options."

Balmaceda says the advisor's intimate knowledge of the TSG, its tactics and its legal obligations can be invaluable during an evolving situation with many moving parts. They can make suggestions on de-escalation methods, such as working with local police liaison officers to remind rally organizers of the demonstrators' goals, and advise commanders on how to maintain safety with the minimal amount of police intervention.

Details such as the number of police officers present, how they interact with a crowd and even the type of uniform officers should wear can all be important factors related to de-escalation.

"The type of uniform itself can be a de-escalation tactic," says Tetreault. "When police show up in the heavy duty protective uniform, people may throw things at them because they don't think officers are going to get hurt."

Evolving work

The POTAC training is one part of modernizing the TSGs. When the TSGs were first established and known as Tactical Troops, their work primarily focused on public order operations. Now, the units have taken on a broader role supporting counter-terrorism searches during major events and VIP visits, evidence searches following major crimes, disaster response during floods and wildfires, and reinforcing the Emergency Response Team by driving vehicles and vessels.

Officers with the TSGs do this work on top of their day-to-day responsibilities. They can be called out at a moment's notice, leaving their desk or their police cruiser to be on the frontlines of an operation.

"In essence it's another part-time job," says S/Sgt. Jeff Ketola, the TSG co-ordinator in British Columbia, who's worked with a tactical team for 20 of his 32 years with the RCMP. "The level of commitment from the members is incredible."

All TSG officers are trained to the same national standard allowing them to support operations anywhere in the country. The flexibility of the teams allows them to quickly send smaller teams to provide immediate scene security or larger teams to conduct full-scale operations for longer periods of time.

"We've had members from across the country flown in to join our group and they've worked seamlessly with us because we have that interoperability," says Balmaceda.

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