The tragic deaths of two unarmed policewomen in Manchester yesterday will inevitably lead to calls from some quarters for on-duty police in the UK to be armed. But before we pursue such a course of action, we need a proper examination of the facts.
We should listen to those who know best - the police themselves. A 2006 Police Federation survey showed an overwhelming majority (82%) of police opposed the routine arming of on-duty police officers. Despite a rise in terrorism and gun-related crime since similar surveys in 2003 and 1995, officers questioned remained steadfast in their opposition to armed policing.
Interestingly when asked if a decision were made to train and arm all police officers whilst on duty, out of the 13.8% who said they would never carry a firearm on duty, an incredible 56% claimed that they would resign from the force rather than accept an order to carry a firearm. That would have a dreadful impact on the ability of the Metropolitan Police to serve Londoners.
It is also worth looking to examples from other police forces around the world to see if arming the police would keep them safer. In the United States 511 police officers were killed between 2000 and September 2010. Of those officers killed 51 were slain when they own gun was turned against them.
Male or female, armed or not armed it would not have made a difference in this situation. Tragically these two dedicated officers were deliberately lured into a trap. This awful event should not be used to devalue the many occasions on which we have seen female officers outperform their male counterparts in their ability to defuse tense standoffs and persuade agitated individuals to act reasonably.
We should resist pressure at these incredibly difficult times to arm the police when it could in fact put our officers in more danger.
Arming the police would be a step in the wrong direction and would go against policing by consent and the history of unarmed policing in this country. I hope the Mayor & other politicians will resist pressure on this.
Rather than dwelling on the idea police with weapons or the fact that the officers killed were female, we should focus on what officers need: on risk assessment, training and when needed specialist backup. Let us not forget in this debate that the Met and other forces already have well trained specialist backup squads who are armed with guns and taser who should be called upon in potentially fatal shootings.
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