History Of Author
I was a Police Constable for Greater Manchester Police for 6 years, 3 of which were within the Forces Tactical Firearms Unit. I was trained to deal with subjects and situations deemed to dangerous for my fellow unarmed Police colleagues, ranging from spontaneous incidents, subject seen on street with firearm, to pre planned operations in a wide range of situations, house entry and search for firearms/persons.
I was trained in building assaults, room clearance, vehicle assaults and elements of hostage rescue as well as the day to day work of making any weapon found 'safe'. I was trained and qualified in a variety of weapons, both handguns as well as carbines and shotguns and towards the end of my time with the unit became involved in anti-terror tactics and operations.
The recent murder of unarmed PC's Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23 in September 2012, who were responding to a routine report of a burglary in Manchester has brought the issue of arming the UK's Police Forces back sharply into the public eye. A male was arrested shortly after the murders and as of October 2012 is awaiting trial for those murders as well as other murders and firearms offences.
The Case for Arming The Police
Proponents of arming the UK Police have pointed towards this incident as a clear indication that Officers should be routinely armed on duty. The view that a widening of the use of firearms by criminals in the UK along with these murders and that of PC Sharon Beshenivsky in 2005, again attending a routine call, have led a section of the public and Police Service to call for the arming of officers. The fact that the UK is one of only 4 larger countries in the world where its Police Force are unarmed only strengthens the argument in their eyes and has led for calls to arm the UK's forces as a matter of course.
A Police Officers view
Having been both an armed and unarmed Police Officer in the UK my thoughts on this issue are very clear, the routine arming of all Police Officers is wrong.
There is of course the usual argument trotted out, that the Police Service in the UK Polices by Consent and a shift to armed officers would detract from that consent. Or that Robert Peel formed the Police in a direct attempt to calm the public by having them unarmed so as to engender trust. Then there is the argument that the Police themselves don't want it -
'A 2006 survey of 47,328 Police Federation members found 82% did not want officers to be routinely armed on duty, despite almost half saying their lives had been "in serious jeopardy" during the previous three years.'
But I have my own arguments, not to do with Policing by consent (who really cares about that nowadays?) or with Robert Peel but more to do with who is actually in the Police Force and why they are there!
On joining in 2001 I was surrounded by new Officers from around the country, a wide demographic of people who felt they had something to offer. They were male/female, old/young, from varying academic backgrounds and definitely with different ideas of what being a Police Officer meant to them. I met degree holders who saw the accelerated promotion scheme as a great way to get to a very high level in the force very quickly as well as family men with 3 kids who just needed to pay the mortgage. I met people with a high skill level in martial arts and those who had never even seen a gym, people who were so naive as to think that a badge and body armour would be enough.
This is the crux of the matter, there were people who had joined the Force who I didn't even trust with a baton, let alone a Glock 17!!
But! Those very same people went on to show me a high level of investigative skill, a great level of empathy for those they were dealing with and a proficiency in paperwork and red tape that made my life easier throughout my service, without those people policing would be a nightmare.
Imagine then a world where the UK police were armed. Would those same people get through the entrance tests? Would they fold under the pressure of carrying a firearm and leave? And worse still, would they make the wrong call if faced with a shoot/no shoot situation?
I personally was very happy these people joined and became a great asset to the force, there was a spot for them without the stress and pressure of carrying firearms, a spot where they could pay the mortgage or advance up the ladder happy in the knowledge there was always a big red panic button which brought us to the game if needed.
I volunteered to carry firearms, because I felt I could do more to get to the bad people that way. I had been the bobby on the street who had to call in the teams and step back and I didn't like it! I wanted to see the job through and take the satisfaction of taking dangerous people off the streets. I trained hard and passed the course, moving onto the Tactical Firearms Unit after only 3 years in the job.
And guess what? People do treat you differently, whereas before people would come up and ask you directions or tell you snippets of info, now all they would do is look at the holster on my thigh. No more interaction with the public we served, we became the pointy bit of the force that was sent in to get someone out or stop something bad that was happening. I would hate that lack of interaction to be the norm, I enjoyed talking to people out and about, it made the day go by faster!
I also do not think any force could equip and train all its members, the cost alone would be prohibitive. Then there's the training needed, I trained for 4 days every 6 weeks whilst on the teams and felt that was not nearly enough, imagine trying to get 7,000 officers trained (Manchester's approx number of officers) and then conduct ongoing training to keep up a very perishable skill?
No I feel unarmed is the way to be at this time. I'm all for having many more armed officers, I would advocate having an armed response vehicle attached to every shift with two authorised firearms officers manning it, they could work the area as a member of the shift but pull away if needed for a larger scale job elsewhere. This way there would be more officers trained and a better reaction time to an incident without every PC carrying.
I do see a rise in officers carrying firearms, it is the obvious course but think it needs to be phased in slowly to get the public used to the idea of seeing guns on police, too soon would change the way the police are viewed and damage public relations so a gradual upping of numbers seems the best way to proceed. I also feel the arming should always be on a voluntary level, don't ever stop the young woman with the fantastic investigative mind from joining because she has no wish to carry, that would be a massive step back for any force at a time when budgets are being squeezed and having the right people in the right places is the ultimate goal.
As for me? I got out. The job changed from a very proactive role where we just got on with chasing the baddies, to a reactive firefighting role where we were hamstrung by red tape and procedure, 'Hurry up and Wait' was a call often used as we raced towards a scene!! I still have friends in the force, both armed and unarmed and many are still doing just what they joined to do, pay the bills!