Richard Pata: Head of the tough guys
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Vladimír Weiss
He leads an intervention unit, the so-called “police above the police”, which is called in by the regular police in extreme situations, when the border between life and death is very narrow. Read for yourself how such a team is managed.
You are the head of the intervention of the Czech Republic Police, Central Bohemian Administrative Region. What roles does an intervention unit play?
It is my honor to lead a team that intervenes against organized crime offenders, in particular those who commit serious, premeditated crimes and violent crimes. We have pyrotechnicians, divers, climbers, psychologists, negotiators, dog handlers, and sharp-shooters. All of these specialists form a compact unit during interventions, but they also carry out their individual assignments. For example, our sharp-shooters ensure the safe course of events such as the NATO summit, the pyrotechnicians most frequently make trips to reported munitions finds or handle suspicious objects.
Which intervention experiences will remain forever in your memory?
Once we received a report that a band of “thieves” were robbing the family home of an older woman, who came in to file the report. The intervention team rushed over, surrounded the building, and started closing in. A neighbor was watching from afar, and commented, “Maybe she was seeing things. That happens sometimes to Maruška.” It turned out that Maruška was seeing things like that four times in a year. Most of the time it’s something much more serious. Recently we went to arrest a perpetrator of violent crimes involving theft, and he did not respond to our calls, so my colleagues had to break down his door. At the moment when they broke through the door, the offender fired twice. Three of our people were standing in the entry, but not one of them was wounded.
You could say they were blessed. Do you believe in a supreme power?
I don’t believe in anything above us – except the sword of Damocles. I believe in luck. I don’t pray before an intervention. Instead I pray that we will survive when we are chasing someone around Prague. Drivers are terribly inconsiderate; they don’t react to our sirens and they block our way.
How do you choose who is accepted into the unit?
I don’t select them entirely on my own. I have training instructors who administer acceptance tests that verify applicants’ ability to cope with physical burdens and psychologically demanding situations. We evaluate our novices as to how they behave in a team. Teamwork is paramount. I certainly don’t need forty Rambo types, I need forty specialists who together provide me with one Rambo.
How would you describe the teamwork within your unit?
I simply must believe in my colleague, and he must believe in me. Otherwise it makes no sense to go into action. An individualist who looks out for himself won’t last long with us. The team will give him the cold shoulder, he won’t enjoy it any more, and he’ll leave. In a better case, the team will work on him and turn him into one of them. When we are preparing for an action I prefer discussion and an exchange of opinions, but in the end, the final decision is up to me or my deputy.
Why is there such high turnover in a unit that is as prestigious as yours?
People leave us because their work wears them out faster than in other police branches. But I wouldn’t dismiss a pyrotechnician with ten years of experience because he can no longer lift a sixty-kilo barbell twenty times. We have classic combatants for that. Unfortunately, some people have left us to join URNA (Rapid Reaction Force, which falls directly under the Police Presidium), which I believe is due to the higher financial remuneration they enjoy there.
During the floods last year you said that a person does not become a pyrotechnician, he is born one, and can only make two mistakes in his life – one when choosing this vocation, and one if he gets confused when disarming an explosive. The specialists on your team differ from the general population to a great degree in their resistance to stress and fear. What kind of people are they?
They are clearly madmen who are most afraid of their wives (laughs). Very often the wives don’t have complete awareness of all that their mates do. Unawareness is the best defense for maintaining the family’s peace and warmth. Seriously – in general I see in our people great self-sacrifice and courage, even though before we go into action we’re nervous and don’t laugh very much. We never try to pump each other up. When we’re in action, we don’t think about fear. Black humor eases the tension, and it’s very popular with us.
For two days during the floods you went out 250 times, among other things blowing up a dangerous boat laden with 700 tons of sand at Kralupy nad Vltavou. How dangerous was that?
Plenty dangerous. As the pyrotechnicians were approaching the boat in the wild river, their launch overturned. They scrambled onto the boat, planted the explosives, and hoped that the helicopter would quickly arrive to pull them off. There was the danger that at any moment the monster would break free. Fortunately, they made it.
What kind of a leader are you?
My colleague reproaches me a bit for being too nice, so that he has to be the bad guy. I’m a democratic leader. I start out from the fact that agreement can be reached with anyone without a person having to roar or play the big boss. This approach has proven itself many times for me. For example, when you find yourself in a situation where you’re standing on one side of a door and a perpetrator is lying in wait for you with a shot-gun, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re the leader or the last combatant. Make a mistake, and you’re history.
How does the public cooperate when you go into action?
Really badly. Our society has recently become very brutal and aggressive. It’s terrible that we have to call on people ten times to leave the scene of an intervention. And they, after the eleventh time, ask why, and they definitely provoke us in situations when it’s a matter of life and death, and we have neither the time nor inclination to satisfy their curiosity. It’s frustrating, and I attribute this powerlessness of the police to poor legislation that far from supports the authority of the police.