Police support unit (United Kingdom)
A Police Support Unit or PSU is a unit of police officers who have undergone specialist tactical training in Public Order and Riot Control.
Police Support Unit training in the United Kingdom is voluntary tactical training undertaken by selected candidates that provides students with the skills required to safely and effectively deal with a variety of public order situations outside the remit or capability of regular divisional officers. From a divisional perspective PSUs perform many of the functions performed by local SWAT teams in the United States where divisional officers are provided with additional tactical training so as to deal with scenarios beyond that of the regular patrolman.
PSU trained officers in the UK are commonly referred to as Level 2, Mutual Aid Support Trained (MAST), or PSU officers.
The majority of UK Police Forces use Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, commonly referred to as 'Carriers', as standard transport for PSUs. The notable exception is the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whose Tactical Support Group officers famously use armoured Land Rovers. These vehicles are equipped with mesh window shields and/or high-impact-resistant polycarbonate windscreens and outfitted with storage compartments for officers' riot, method of entry, tactical and CBRN kit. Carrier drivers must undergo specialist driver training in 'riot conditions' before qualifying as a carrier driver.
Standard kit for PSU officers consists of a transparent acrylic riot shield, a baton, a visored 'NATO' helmet, shin and elbow guards, along with fireproof coveralls when required. Taser is a recent addition to the PSU officer's armoury. This level of protection allows officers to deal with a variety of violent situations, including riots, football violence and suspects armed with a variety of weapons. Some PSU teams are also dual-trained as first-line responders for CBRN incidents and carry relevant detection kit as well as major incident equipment.
PSU officers are trained to a higher standard of operational readiness than their divisional counterparts. Training exercises undertaken encompass a variety of public order scenarios; officers will undergo extensive riot training including being petrol bombed in large scale engagements, prison clearance tactics, football stadium scenarios, night club scenarios, aircraft, rail and various 'angry-man' scenarios, as well as additional specialist training including use of stun grenades and distraction devices. PSU units spend considerable time training with other specialist police teams as well as certain military units.
- Level 1 - these officers (normally full-time PSU) receive regular specialist training which can be every five weeks including shield tactics, violent person, petrol bombing, crowd extractions and training in house entry and search. All public order officers need to be fit; a Level 1 officer must be able to run 1000 metres, dressed in full protective equipment whilst carrying a long shield, in less than 6 minutes.
- Level 2 - These officers are drawn from Boroughs/Divisions; they receive similar training to Level 1 officers but only in basic public order functions and tactics. Level 2 also only attend their specialist training centre two days a year for training. Level 2 officers must be able to run 500 metres dressed in full protective equipment whilst carrying a long shield in less than 2 mins 45 secs. If an officer fails any of the runs they are returned to their Borough/Division without receiving training or qualification. Officers are required to achieve 6.4 as a minimum on the bleep test to qualify for level 2. The long shields carried are 5'6" tall, 1'11" wide and weigh 17 lbs.
- Level 3 - All other police officers are classed as being level 3 trained, this they will have received in their last week at training school, their training includes all foot duty cordons, and mounted branch deployments. This training is delivered in approximately a half a day class and covers basic tactics.
Most police forces maintain full-time PSU sections whose role is to provide a wide range of specialist services in addition to high visibility core policing. Forces that do not maintain a full-time PSU section will have PSU trained officers in other roles (such as standard response roles) who can be called upon by a rota system.
As well as PSU they (full-time units) may be called, dependent on the police force:
- Local Support Team (Sussex Police)
- Support Group (City of London)
- Catch (Avon & Somerset Constabulary)
- Tactical Support Group (Leicestershire Constabulary, Surrey Police, Gloucestershire Police, Police Service of Northern Ireland)
- Operational Support Unit (Ministry of Defence Police, British Transport Police, Lancashire Constabulary, Lincolnshire Police, West Midlands Police, West Yorkshire Police (formerly Operation Target Team), South Wales Police Police Scotland)
- Tactical Aid Unit (Greater Manchester Police)
- Force Support Group (Devon and Cornwall Police)
- Divisional Support Unit (Hertfordshire Constabulary, Kent Police)
- Territorial Support Group (Metropolitan Police, Nottinghamshire Police)
- Matrix Disruption Team (Merseyside Police)
- Vector (Cheshire Police)
- Area Support Group (Northumbria Police)
- Task Force/Operational Support Services (South Yorkshire Police, Derbyshire Constabulary)
- Operational Support Group (Essex Police)
- Tasking Team (West Mercia Police)
The core functions of the support unit, dependent on the police force or service are:
- Public order/Riot Control
- Apprehension of dangerous offenders
- Cell relocation of problem prisoners
- Security/VIP/Royalty searches
- Military Convoy/Hi-Risk Prisoner Escort
- Missing person search
- Method of entry (MOE) or Door breaching
- Critical/Major Incident Response
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) Response
- Pool of Authorised Firearm Officers
- Decoy Ops/Test Purchase/Surveillance/Proactive Operations
- Rope Access and Confined-Space Search Teams
- Body Recovery Teams
- Divisional/Borough Support
Other PSU elements
- Dog Section
- Mounted Section
- Firearms unit
As with their full-time counterparts, some Special Constables are trained in public order duties, including policing of football matches and demonstrations. In West Yorkshire Police, 24 specials have received Level 2 PSU - Police Support Unit training, and have become part of the 'Operation Target' team. PSU Level 2 training is also available to Special Constables of Police Scotland, where SC's are deployed as an integral part of regular PSUs.
- "Dyfed-Powys Police - Public Order" (PDF). Best Value Review Inspection Reports. HMIC. March 2003. Retrieved 1 March 2003.
- Kent Police M07 Public Order - Policy (accessed 05.01.06) Archived 16 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Metropolitan Police - Public Order Training (accessed 05.01.07) Archived 26 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- Specials magazine (Published om behalf of the Home Office) Autumn 2005