A distinguishing feature of our country that astounds a lot of foreigners is our traditional, unarmed, British bobby.
This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal.
But after the heavily increased risk of terrorism over the past 16 years, why are our boys and girls in blue still not given arms routinely?
Amid claims that the public want it – don’t the Police serve the public?
This would certainly be a convincing argument for routinely arming officers. A recent Sky News Poll showed that 70% of the British public want to see their everyday constable with a side arm. Even with a margin of error that’s a large majority of the public. After the Manchester bombing and the two attacks in London it would be understandable if the public felt uneasy about unarmed officers when every other person could be a machete wielding lunatic.
Although it’s easy for the public to say “I don’t feel safe knowing my bobby is not armed” there is actually a compelling case on the contrary that you would actually be less safe with armed officers on the beat. This brings me onto my next point…
It’s easy to forget that underneath the stab vest and the warrant card is a human being. Police Officers aren’t emotionless robots and they often have reservations about being routinely armed. I remember reading somewhere of a firearms officer who described the side arm “like a tumour on your hip that you always know is there” and this resentment for firearms in Police Forces across the country is apparent. A Police Federation poll conducted in 2006 showed that 82% of its members did not want a gun. I wouldn’t be surprised if the newer Police Federation poll being conducted this year shows similar results. A Police Officer not being comfortable with their equipment is surely less effective or safe than the current situation?
What is commonly attributed to this resentment of firearms is the level of accountability in our policing. The UK media and justice system scrutinise every police bullet fired in the same way they do a criminals. One single mistake puts an armed officer out of a job or in jail for life. Whether you believe this is right or wrong is irrelevant, it happens. You can see why so many officers are put off from having guns.
This issue is at an impasse. To solve the problem of police officers worrying about being strung up for their mistakes, we would have to lessen regulation on the use of police firearms like in the US. This however could create a new problem of a trigger happy culture (like in the United States.) British armed police count themselves as some of the most restrained anywhere in the world, notably attributed to how restrictive regulations are on firearm use.
One possible solution is the taser. A non-lethal solution that has been deployed more and more across the UK in recent years. While it is no silver bullet to the terrorism problem (I don’t think there is a silver bullet to the terrorism problem) it would seem the closest we can get to protecting our officers and public better without putting them at undue risk of prosecution.
I think the best thing we can do is to arm (or not arm) officers on an officer-to-officer basis. Instead of blanket arming (or not arming) officers that would cause the problem of policemen and women being weary of their gun why not let the officer judge if they want to be armed or not? If a police officer feels they can execute their duties successfully with a side arm then so be it.