The below article was written early last year but never published. With the tragic shooting of two police officers in Manchester and the subsequent debate on arming police officers now seems an appropriate time to look at the issue and so I’ve edited it to bring it up to date. As for the incident itself I don’t think I can add anything to the words of DCC Thompson over on his blog, take a look if you’ve not done so already.
Should I be given a gun? My immediate answers would be no, I probably shouldn’t be (I’d quickly run out of toes) but should British police officers in general be routinely armed?
In this post, inspired by some of the interest in the subject shown during our Tweet & Greet, I consider whether arming us officers would be beneficial.
The tradition in Britain is that we police by consent. Robert Peel, founder of the Met, stated how important this is to the effectiveness of the police when he included it as part of his ‘Peelian Principles‘.
We are able to police the population because the majority of the public readily support what we are doing and are willing to help us.
The opposite to consent would be coercion. Routinely carrying a firearm I think suggests that there’s no confidence we are able to police by consent alone, something we’ve done successfully for nearly two centuries.
Further to this, having a handgun strapped to the hip represents a huge barrier between the officer and a member of the public. The presence of a firearm is unnerving and it’s not part of our tradition that the option exists at all to readily deploy lethal force.
As Peel thought, ‘the police are the public and the public are the police‘ – issuing us firearms would be a step away from this very important principle.
Speaking to an armed officer is a different interaction to that with a regular bobby and I would argue people would feel less at ease when doing so.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a job when I’ve thought I might want to be carrying a firearm, nor one that I thought the use of a gun might help things. There are situations when the threat is such that we’ll need access to a higher level of force but this is what our armed response units are there to provide.
The majority of the jobs that we deal with, certainly in Walsall, do not necessitate us carrying guns and incidents in which we encounter guns on the streets are very, very rare.
Guns simply aren’t relevant to our role the majority of the time and across the hundreds of thousands of daily interactions between police and public have no part to play.
I think it’s not only that guns don’t seem relevant to my day to day role, it’s also that I joined the police under conditions such that a lethal option was not put at my immediate disposal.
I’m hesitant to use force at the best of times – I’ve not used my CS Spray and have never even drawn my baton. I’d have real reservations about being given a gun.
Currently officers have the option of putting themselves in a position in which one day they might have to take a life, a huge responsibility in itself. Arming every officer takes this choice away – I’d be carrying something that might end someone else’s life and change mine forever.
Debate about arming police officers will always be present, brought to the fore periodically by incidents such as the shooting of PC Sharon Beshenivsky in 2005, Derrick Bird’s rampage in Cumbria the year before last and now the horrific incident in Manchester.
In a 2006 Police Federation survey, over 80% of the 47,000 members asked stated that they did not wish to see officers routinely armed on duty.
Until I see something to address the above concerns about giving us guns, I’ll remain in this 80%.