Don’t Arm The Police!

With the shootings of two female police officers, the call, naturally, has gone out for the police to be routinely armed – not that being armed is likely to have made any difference in such a vicious ambush. It is ironic that Britain steadfastly resists the death penalty yet seriously considers giving the police the ability to administer an instant death penalty on the street. It is not even as if the example of other nations that arm their police give hope – in America gunfights between police and criminals are unfortunately common and gun massacres disturbingly regular despite the police being armed; whilst in Europe, citizens have even greater trust issues with the police than they do in the UK, seeing them as armed thugs more than preservers of the peace.

Giving police guns invariably leads to the criminals feeling an even greater need to arm themselves and creates a divide between the police and public that undermines not only law enforcement but the very fabric of society. Despite an upsurge in gun crime, Britain remains relatively gunfree compared to many parts of the world and, rather than arming the police (inevitably providing another source for criminals to get their hands on weapons by taking them from the police themselves), the govenment should be doing all it can to ensure that guns do not enter the country, that those that are already here are located and removed from circulation, and that those carrying or using guns are severely punished as a deterrent.

My personal feeling is that there should be a separation between regular police and specialist police, not only to ensure that policing is properly focused but to restore public confidence. With the decline of the beat bobby, an increase in armed (with tasers or guns) officers, the trend towards paramilitarism and riot control, and the number of police scandals, it is becoming difficult for anyone, even the law-abiding, to see the police as anything other than the oppressive arm of the state and just another violent street gang, albeit with taxpayer funding. If there was a division between local policing and specialist policing (armed police, riot police, those carrying out dawn raids) things would work better:  by separating the riot police from local forces, there would no longer be the need for officers to worry about retaliation when out in their community, nor would the beat officers be tarred with the same brush whenever the riot police had to deal with violence. Even when the riot squad are entirely justified in their actions, there will always be those who see them as thuggish marauders, tainting relations with the police. But, if the local beat bobby is uncoupled from that side of policing, his standing will not be as diminished, as he will live amongst the community and, if not quite seen as ‘one of us’, will, at least, be regarded as an honorary member of the local community to whom people can turn and who is aware of local problems, foibles and characters.

I also believe that they should return to the old concept of the beat bobby being an exceptionally tall man. That’s not to say that there is no place in local policing for women and men of short or average height, but the beat bobby propper should be a distinctive person whose very presence commands respect and attention. There is no great exaggeration in the old stories of a bobby being able to quell a bar brawl by his mere, lone, presence; today, a riot van full of coppers would probably have a hard time restoring order! The local bobby needs to be a forceful, yet understanding and responsive person, someone who knows the local area and is part of the community. It is not his job to kick in the doors of drugdealers during a dawn raid, nor to wield a batton in riot gear. He might have to resort to violence upon occasion, but his primary job is to maintain order through respect earned locally and to carry out the daily duties of policing – making his rounds to ensure all is well and to spot suspicious activity, to provide advice, help and comfort, and to tackle the sort of low-level hoodlum behaviour and vandalism that can so easily plague local communities.

A specialist force of officers trained in riot control, raids, hostage rescue, firearms and such like, can then be used when such measures are necessary. Based around the country, they would be available to action where needed and, if necessary, could be concentrated in specific areas without draining manpower from frontline policing. Without ties to the local community in the same manner as the beat bobbies and other frontline services, they would not have the qualms of doing what needed to be done or fears of retaliation, and their activities, right or not, would not tarnish local policing efforts. Hopefully, with a more centralised system and a greater emphasis upon their specific role, they might reach greater heights of effectiveness, honesty and honour than seem to exist currently.

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