ENFIELD: When residents see the heavily armoured vehicles from the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) in their community, they should know their safety is of utmost importance and to seek shelter.
Following a medical call that turned into a standoff on April 1 at a residence on Bayberry Drive in Milford, many were wondering about the protocol involved for a standoff, what is involved in getting the ERT team out to calls and whether residents who see the armoured vehicles should be worried. We asked East Hants RCMP about it.
“If they see us coming with lights and sirens, people should move over and let us through because we’re trying to get somewhere,” said Cpl. Tim Mills. “If they do see us in their community, they should be aware there is something going on, but not to come and interfere or sneak around to get a better idea of what’s going on.
“Normally, if we’re involved as an ERT team, there’s an outer perimeter setup of uniformed police officers. Residents can go ask them a question of what they can and can’t do.”
He said residents shouldn’t worry about an incident going on all the time when they see the vehicles.
“If we’re there, normally the scene is contained,” he said. “If you’re talking about a more active threat, we’re going to be getting more stuff on social media, the news, to make people aware if there was an imminent threat.”
Cpl. Mills, who works out the East Hants RCMP detachment in Enfield and is a member of the ERT, explained what goes into the decision making about the requirement at the scene of any given situation.
“The supervisor on scene would get a hold of a Risk Manager, and they would then give a call to a Critical Incident Commander who’s on call 24/7,” said Cpl. Mills on a beautiful April morning. “They make the decision if it’s an ERT call out or not based on what they have at the scene.
“If they deem it necessary to call out the ERT team, they will do that and call out other units, including a crisis negotiator and the K-9 units.”
He said their response time all varies depending on the time of day a call comes in.
“Sometimes when members show up on scene they don’t have enough answers if ERT is needed or not, so if they call and its 100 per cent ERT call right from the start and all the ERT questions are answered,” he said, “we have guys in the city working and they can be rolling within minutes.
“If it’s in the middle of the night, it could take half an hour for the crew to respond to headquarters in the city to get everything they need and continue on.”
The ERT team covers all across Nova Scotia, so that could also play a role in how soon they can respond.
Cpl. Mills said a risk assessment is done, with questions being asked of those on scene, including whether the suspect is contained, if there are weapons and what type they are, if there were threats used.
“They ask a lot of different questions regarding what type of threat we’re looking at,” he said.
While there seems to be an increase in ERT team usage and visibility, it’s not because there are an actual increase, but because of the areas involved, said ERT member Cpl. Shawn
In the case of the nine-hour standoff in Milford on April 1 following a medical call that turned to threats against police and the person himself, given the location they were more visible. In most cases in rural N.S., said Cpl. Shawn Mason, the team is in and out without anyone even knowing any different and it’s not reported on.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re increasing,” he said. “The other night there was a call and there was a lot of exposure because of the neighbourhood that it was in was kind of urban. We deal with a lot of calls that are quite rural, and typically we come in, deal with the situation, and then we leave.
“I think the other night there was some exposure to it which brought it to the forefront. Every year we’ve seen a consistency in the calls spread across the provinces, with a little more in the HRM area.”
Cpl. Mills said part of the procedure is to notify residents within the containment area of residence or a building.
“We have to take into consideration the type of weapons, the threats made, and how close the other residents are,” he said. “Depending on the manpower on scene, they will try to contact, tell them to evacuate, or shelter in their residence for their safety.”
As for the Milford case, Cpl. Mason said public safety is the most important thing; however with more people switching to cellphones and doing away with their land-lines, that can cause issues.
“Once we have a residence contained in that we can keep the person of interest inside and we know they are there, then it goes to the residents,” he said. “The problem that we’re running into with today’s technology is that nobody has home phones anymore. What happens when we’re trying to contact people it’s not as easy as it used to be when people were in phone books, 411, but now everyone is going with a cellphone.
“Unfortunately, when you’re trying to contact a certain area cellphones aren’t in our database. Then we run into the problem of notifying residents in the close vicinity, and then the problem there is there are so many tasks going on at the same time than we could put the general duty members in harms way by notifying the people.
“It’s a juggling act of trying to notify people, finding contact numbers for people, and then being able to get out and let them know. I think once people realize we’re there, we make a strong presence, the common sense is to take shelter or even call up the local detachment and ask what is going on with the big armoured vehicle in the area.”
Cpl. Mills said the East Hants RCMP members that responded to the call received praise from the Critical Incident Commander for the Milford call. People outside the containment area were never in danger.
“He was very complimentary of the Enfield members that contained this and had things ready to go for when ERT team did show up,” he said. “It was above and beyond protocol what they did beforehand.”
He did provide a bit of an update on the case. The 63-year-old Milford man has been charged and was scheduled to appear in court on April 6. He was released on a recognizance with strict conditions, pending the court date.