Police across the United Kingdom have reacted with a mixture of sorrow, anger and a huge degree of foreboding to events in Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge and Munich. As each of these tragedies unfolded and as word reaches them of further incidents such as those at Wurzburg, Ansbach and now Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvray, they will be asking themselves: 'What if.'
Make no mistake, every single officer in this country, most of whom perform duties unarmed, would be mentally rehearsing their actions if and indeed when, they are confronted with similar scenarios in our cities, towns and resorts.
Their collective view is perhaps summed by the legendary serving police blogger 'Inspector Gadget' who tweeted; "UK cops watching armed police on Sky News rushing to contain the Munich scene thinking what in God's name would we do here. "
Munich police asserted that they were able to deploy more than 2,300 armed police officers in a short space of time. Within minutes the area swarmed with police who included heavily armed plain clothes officers resplendent in shorts. It's a sobering thought that the figure of 2,300 is probably in excess of the number of armed police who would be working throughout the UK mainland at any one time.
The threat grows; UK armed police numbers fall.
Armed officers in the UK began to feel concerned after the Mumbai massacre in 2008 and these concerns escalated after the murder of Lee Rigby and the Westgate shopping mall slaughter in Nairobi.
Since then, outside conflict zones, terrorist incidents across the world including Boston, Ottawa, Sydney, New York, Melbourne, Souse, multiple incidents in France and Belgium together with numerous plots frustrated by the British security services and police, still failed to move the government
Amazingly, between 2009 and 2015 the number of highly trained armed officers actually fell by 1,300. Only with the Paris massacre in November last year did the government and the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, realise that political suicide was inevitable unless action were taken. Extra funding was at last provided and frantic attempts are now being made to recruit additional armed officers which will increase numbers but only to just above 2009 levels.
These efforts involve the somewhat unedifying spectacle of desperate forces attempting to 'poach' qualified firearms officers and instructors from each other. Recruitment in some forces however is also being hampered by the fears held by many officers as to the consequences involved if they have to 'pull the trigger.'
The emaciated blue line
Such is the sorry state of policing in the UK that there is not even an unarmed police presence in many substantially populated country towns and seaside resorts. The austerity closures of hundreds of police stations and the decimation of community policing means that much of the population will only see police on the occasional drive through or when responding to a call.
If that call is to a terrorist incident, a deranged active shooter or even an individual determined to kill police officers, it could still be some considerable time before there is an unarmed police response or assistance to the targeted officer let alone an armed response
Even arriving officers in Armed Response Vehicles's (ARV's) could be 'outgunned' by a one or more active shooters or find it impossible to stop a Nice type truck. Until the arrival of an ARV, unarmed officers would consider all options including, as in a Lee Rigby type scenario, using the car as a weapon -thereby risking the wrath of the loathed Independent Police Complaints Commission-or at least assist in evacuating and /or rendering first aid to members of the public.
The government talks of a surge of armed officers in the event of a major incident, the use of the army and the armed Civil Nuclear Constabulary (who have been told to expect to work until they are 68!) yet these would be deployed in the aftermath of an attack in order to deter further outrages.
The concern of front line officers relates to the police response to that crucial first attack especially if that attack is fast moving. I tweeted recently that 'minutes matter;' Kevin Hurley, the former Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner and senior police officer ,who has served and narrowly escaped death in Iraq, promptly responded by tweeting "seconds matter."
Recent Events: UK
The recent incident where an attempt was made to abduct a serviceman near RAF Marham rang alarm bells for all armed forces personnel and police officers and once again those police officers spoke scathingly of 'be vigilant' emails. They have little choice but to emerge from their obvious places of work to walk to parked cars or public transport yet the powers that be still refuse to allow them to be in possession of either their expandable batons or incapacitate spray when travelling to and from work .
Of equal concern and mentioned only in passing by the media, was the conviction on the 13th of July 2016, of Gavin Rae also known as Yakub Rae, a former British soldier and a convert to the extreme form of Islam. In a superb operation, doubtless initiated by the Security Service, undercover police foiled his attempts to purchase firearms and ammunition. Rae even enquired about obtaining an Uzi. The unanswered question remains; namely the nature of the atrocity he was planning to carry out. Whatever it was, had he succeeded, he would have grabbed headlines around the world. The question is how many other Yakub Rae's are out there?
Dallas, Baton Rouge, the UK and anti-police rhetoric.
The deaths of police officers in both Dallas and Baton Rouge evoked huge sympathy from across the British policing community. The difficulties facing black officers following the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement were movingly articulated by Officer Montrell Jackson in a post written just days before he was murdered at Baton Rouge. Jay Stalien, a black New York cop, also wrote inspirationally and at length about the hatred and mistrust directed at him even by his own family members despite the fact that he would be prepared to lay down his life for the community that is so hostile to him.
The question clearly being asked by American law enforcement is whether the violent ant-police rhetoric espoused by extreme factions of Black Lives Matter increased the dangers faced by police officers at the hands of militant activists, thugs and criminals across the country.
There is little doubt that the American Black Lives Matter movement poses questions that demand answers but in doing so appears to have stigmatised every law enforcement officer regardless of the fact that those officers will drive and run towards shots and explosions in order to save lives. In the UK, Black Lives Matter protests have thus far been largely peaceful yet the chant "Black Lives Matter" could be heard from youths confronting police during disorder seen across London just last week.
The bile emanating from black British activists such as Lee Jasper is as inflammatory as anything heard from the most virulent African American militant in the US. Jasper's infamous comment directed to a black UK officer on twitter referred to that officer as; 'Some kind of wretched ass kissing Uncle Tom' which will presumably apply to all black officers whether in the UK or USA .
Both British and American police are facing unprecedented pressures and with these pressures are increasing risks of injury and death. Inflammatory rhetoric from the likes of Jasper can only increase the risks faced by officers but even more damaging is the insidious criticism from leading politicians be they David Cameron or Theresa May. Add to this mix, constant denigration by the national media, eager to pounce on any transgression then the inevitable result is a greater willingness of the criminal, the thug and the terrorist to confront police.
The crocodile tears of those same individuals and same sections of the media, be they in the US or the UK, when tragedy strikes is not lost on grieving officers. In the UK police are facing more abuse, confrontation and violence than ever before in the face of a massive terror threat together with an increasing menace from gangs especially in UK cities.
The future holds?
Sooner or later, somewhere in the UK, a mass tragedy will strike which our thinly spread emergency services will have to deal with. If the result is a preventable loss of life due to lack of resources, a predictable chain of events will occur.
Home Office ministers, officials and culpable senior police officers will, at any subsequent inquest or 'full and frank' government enquiry, desperately strive to keep out of the mire while attempts will be made to stifle the views of rank and file officers. Someone, somewhere will then draft a 'whitewash' report.
Ask any front line police or border force officer if they believe everything possible to prevent a tragedy is being done and then wait for a reply which will involve either cynical laughter or unprintable language.