Command and Control in Public Service

Analysis of the importance and use of command and control within a uniformed public service


Uniformed Public Services and a lot of other organisations including some of business, use Command and Control systems, so their organisational structure can work effectively, because each individual has a role and responsibility to do.  This system is very clear and easy to follow for everyone and it is used, so organisations can control large scale of personnel which is really important for Public Services.  Rank system indicates the importance of roles and responsibilities that individual performs and higher rank personnel obtains authority to control lower rank personnel.  It can be operational rank or strategic rank.  In this essay I will point out differences and analyse real incidents where Command and Control method was successful and where it was not.command and control, levels of command

Difference between rank and role

Even though rank indicates importance of the position and it is usually only given to individuals that qualifies for that position, because of their qualifications, experience or expertise, sometimes lower rank personnel can solve problems and spot mistakes or have sensible plan, because they are actually involving in incident e.g. burning building and they can have better understanding about the complexity of a problem or task and their own capabilities as a team or recognise whether the initial plan works or not.  So lower rank personnel e.g. operational team can also contribute to strategy and planning, but they need to contact the right person e.g. team’s tactical commander, so he/she can evaluate ideas and give orders or pass it on to higher rank personnel if the issue needs that amount of attention.

Other point about this topic is related to team work and personal responsibility within a role.  As a higher rank personnel e.g. tactical officer having a team and dealing with accident were operational team finds it difficult to keep up with the challenges and needs an extra hand – would a team leader put his/her rank aside and involve in helping operational team.  To achieve a goal, sometimes even team leader has to put hands to work with the rest of the team.

Case Study

Why Command and Control is important and who it is important to?

To analyse at this topic we will look at one of the major events that happened in 2011.  It was London riots, where police service as a whole faced extreme challenges and was put under intense pressure.  Crucial decisions had to be made by chief officers that affected police officers, rioters and could have put public in danger if rioters would have escalated to bigger scale to become a national threat.

Strategic team or Gold team had to be resourceful when making decisions to get as much control over situation as possible even though it was really hard for operational teams to keep up with the pressure and danger they had to face.  At this point even tactical officers had to be in a field with the rest of operational teams, because there was shortage of officers.

Command and Control at this situation was important for right decisions to be made by strategic team, because to look at the situation police officers weren’t allowed to use any kind of weaponry that shoots, only batons and shields as riots happened, because of police violence in the first place.  So what strategic team decided to do is just to maintain police presence and try to avoid any causalities as much as possible to prevent aggression rising against police and looting of businesses.

Command and Control for police service as a whole was really important that every officer at that time was doing their role and carrying out their responsibilities correctly and following orders from strategic team.

How Command and Control is used?

In this situation Command and Control was used to control resources by making strategies and carefully planning.  These resources were police officers (operational team – riot police), gear and vehicles.  Instructions and orders were given to operational teams even though there was issues in communication systems.

During London riots commanders had to be authoritative and at the same time making sensible decisions.  Why?  Because some officers had to stand confronting riots for 12 and more hours with no food and some with no drink with riot gear on which is heavy and warm.  And there is not much of use out of exhausted riot police officers confronting looting rioters who are continuously attacking them.

Keeping in mind a major factor that was contributing to the riot escalation and resulted it being for so long, was failure in communication system.  It was unexpected as the new system was supposed to be better…  This was barrier and noise in communication for strategic command to pass on information to tactical or operational teams.  To overcome this – mobile phones were used, but mobiles work differently than radios and it was one more challenge that whole police force had to co-operate with.  Information was transferred with delay, in the centre there was lack of information about officers that are on duty.

Possible effects if this system was not used on public and services

To understand what would happen to services if Command and Control would not be used, we need to look what happens when it is used and what positive outcome it creates.  We can see the impact it did during London riots when at one point strategic team had almost no communication with operational teams and what kind of confusion it created till they realised to use mobile phones.  So it is evident that when operational teams loses contact with strategic teams they become disorganised which leads them to poor performance.  But to imagine if Command and Control was not used when dealing with riots at all, how would officers know where to get information, who to take instructions and orders from?

Rioters would recognise that police force is disorganised and chaos would continue and might even grow resulting in people that do not participate or participate in riots hurt, business looted and other disorder taking over.

Evaluation of the importance and use of command and control within the uniformed public services

Does Command and Control Work?

It is evident that Command and Control system works very well, even under extreme pressures like London riots – police force could still maintain some level of control despite the problems they had with their own communication systems and limited amount of equipment.  Because of that loss, a lot of planning and strategy had to be from tactical commanders who were on the scene.  They made strategies by using their experience in the field and analysing rioters’ behaviour.  Because of Command and Control structure, tactical leaders were able to control operational teams and confront rioters in an organised manner and with strategy e.g. to make sure that rioters don’t get access to certain areas and points.

Could Command and Control work better?

Command and Control is a discipline and a system in organisation.  In this London riot case, I do not think it could work any way better, I think it actually worked very well despite the escalation and damage that was done.  Service had to go through a lot of challenges and they still managed to maintain formations and be organised, because all squads have tactical commanders which obtain authority when there is no other higher rank officer.  So a higher rank officer always keeps authority over lower rank officers and can lead, giver orders, instruct, mentor or coach them if necessary.

What sort of things could make Command and Control go wrong?

In London riots a lot of factors could have made Command and Control go wrong.  If a riot squad loses a tactical commander, someone else has to take his role and lead the team.  The problem is that tactical commanders that have enough experience to control squads in such a major event are difficult to find.  And there was some actual cases when squad’s tactical leader got injured and had to leave the scene, leaving his team to deal with it on their own.  This could lead to people that take over the lead in making wrong decisions and police officers being injured.

Second thing that is not very related to the case, but I think important to point out as it is very related to Command and Control is abuse of authority.  Because high ranked officers have access to certain information that is usually classified and can use it for their own benefit.

Last point about what could go wrong is if in this example, officers would lose trust with authority.  To be a leader of a major organisation like Metropolitan Police that has high disciplinary systems in place, you have to be authoritative, but excessive display of authority, its misuse and disrespect, can lead officers in abandoning the operation…  And there was examples when some officers left riot squads as they felt that not enough support is provided to them and that they are actually left on their own, so they refused to stand in formation.

If it does go wrong, what can occur as a result?

If Command and Control would go wrong e.g. communication system failure, lack of tactical leaders and high ranked officers; organisation would lose stability and in this case could not maintain even a minimum control of a situation.  Results would actually be devastating and it could even lead to a mass scale anarchy over a country which we can see happened, but police managed to maintain control.  Injured people would not get sufficient help, food water etc.  Increase in looters would cause chaos.

But leaving London riots and looking at this system as a whole and whether there was any cases of Command and Control failures it is evident that if Command and Control system would actually go wrong, – the whole organisation’s functions, roles and responsibilities would fail and dependant on what their functions are, specific consequences would follow.  Whether it’s armed forces, emergency services or other including private public sector such as water supply, electricity and transport.  In private businesses there are also Command and Control systems in place, they are just represented in different way, with less discipline than uniformed services.

How Command and Control can be improved?

Command and Control is an old system that has been proven to be suitable for variety of services and businesses.  Every organisation implement Command and Control in a way that is suitable to them, because this system is flexible and very easy to understand for people where they are at the scale.

But looking at London riot example, I think this system did really well as people knew who to follow even when their e.g. tactical leader was down.  Even if all officers are the same rank, all of them would have different experience and people who have more experience and knowledge could step up and lead, but there is also a question whether team will follow their lead…  What I noticed was that some officers could not keep up and actually refused to stay in formation, because they received too much pressure from authorities.  And then it is debatable whether their decision to put so much pressure under these circumstances were reasonable action or it was too much?  Should strategic team put more attention on operational team capabilities or blindly shoot and hope that they will make it?  It is hard to tell, because there are many factors involved in London riots which made decision making difficult.

Sources of information and references:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qktOvVNXwc

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Command_and_control

https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/public-order/command/