THE BLOG

Don't Routinely Arm Our Police

14/01/2016 17:23 GMT | Updated 14/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has announced that they will be training an additional six hundred Met Officers to carry out armed duties - this in response to the recent attacks in Paris where heavily armed terrorists slaughtered innocent concert goers.

Since the announcement the public debate has gone to the extremes of people suggesting all police should be armed - and even that the Army should be on the streets everyday and that civilians should be armed with tazers! Or - at least that was the debate on Radio 5 Live this morning. Callers were claiming to be fearing for their lives even though they couldn't give evidence about why they should be so afraid.

As a fellow citizen who experiences the same level of threat that these callers do I can say that we should be very careful about who we arm - whether police or otherwise!

I was a Met police officer through the 80s, 90s - up to 2006 and my experience tells me that we should not routinely arm police and that there are many reasons not to.

Firstly - putting thousands of extra firearms on the streets every day of the week will lead to people getting shot. Every incident a normal (armed) patrol officer deals with will by definition involve a firearm.

That officer will have to be careful not to allow his (or her) gun to be taken off him and used against him or others. He or she will have to make immediate decisions about threats before them and they will not always get that right. Situations that now end up with the police officer rolling around with a suspect today may mean it ends up with the firearm being used in the future. Look at the situation in the USA and the many videos of officers shooting people when they were not a threat to them.

It is easy for me to be brave now that I am no longer a Police Officer but it seems most serving officers don't want to be armed. Indeed many of them may be unsuited to armed duties but otherwise very good at what they do. I don't think I would have been a suitably safe armed officer!

The deployment of the 600 extra armed officers in London sounds like a measured and appropriate response to the possibility of an incident similar to that which occurred in Paris happening in London. It would probably require officers to have weapons powerful enough to take on suspects armed with assault rifles. Giving every officer up and down the Country a pistol to carry is not going to address that threat - but it will have unintended consequences for many people for decades to come.

Of course forces that police other large urban areas will have to review what resources they need in place - its not all about London.

The phrase "the terrorists will have won if......." is used a lot - often without evidencing what their intentions actually are. So I will put it another way - if we arm our police routinely because of what the terrorists have done then we will have lost something whatever the intentions of the terrorists.

We will have lost a measure of our society - that we can police ourselves without guns - that we can be some of the few people in the world who don't see guns on our streets and still look with curiosity at the guns police carry abroad.

If we arm our police I think our relationship with them will change for ever and we don't need to do it and it will not make us safer.