Posts Tagged 'Zulu Tango'

No one dared to ask his business, no one dared to make a slip for the stranger there among them had a big iron on his hip…

Should we be given guns? I’m not so sure…

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%.

Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?

Interior of a WMP firearms car.

Pretty much the first question I’m always asked by fascinated kids when they’re looking at the kit dangling from my equipment belt is “Do your carry a gun?”.

Nothing I carry looks remotely like any kind of firearm but even so, most children seem to think that in one of my many pouches I’m ‘packing some heat’ and am ready to ‘cook a fool’ if necessity dictates.

Now whilst it’s true that I don’t carry, or have access to, any sort of firearm*, there are officers who do. These toughened lot are what we call ‘Authorised Firearms Officers‘ and provide the West Midlands with a twenty four hour response capability to deal with any incidents which might involve guns.

Becoming a firearms officer is one of the toughest things to do out of all the different roles across the force and as competition is so tight, only the very best even consider applying. The selection process involves a series of tests designed to screen those who have the potential necessary to take on what is a very demanding job and the training that is provided after acceptance is designed to prepare the officer for any situation they may face.

Aside being taught how to use the weapons themselves, officers are given enhanced training in areas such as driving and incident management to ensure the safety of both the public and other officers.

Us regular officers work alongside the firearms officers providing them information about a firearms incident and working to ensure that the danger posed to the public is minimised. Few of us are interested in finding out just how good our ballistic vests are and as I pointed out to a child the other day, our trousers aren’t bullet proof, so we prefer to give anyone thought to be in possession of a gun a wide berth.

Aside dealing with incidents in which people have decided resorting to the use of a gun is the only way of sorting out their differences, firearms officers also have a role in providing education about guns and in taking care of weapons and ammunition when they are recovered during searches. Rather than pick up a found pistol and risk blowing a hole in our feet, we’ll rather call out a firearms car who will make it safe and take it away for disposal.

To understate, firearms are blooming dangerous things and it is in both our interest and that of the public that we can take as many of them off the streets as we are able. Firearms officers are essential to helping us achieve this aim and in dealing with the few who think carrying a gun is a good idea and that using it will get them any further than the inside of a prison cell or worse, a coffin.

* Other than my CS which technically qualifies as a S. 5 firearm.

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