Please turn on javascript in your browser to play chess.
Debates Forum

Debates Forum

  1. 19 Sep '12 16:05
    British police are almost unique in the world in that they do not normally carry weapons, a fact brought into the spotlight by the recent killing of two officers in the line of duty.

    So, is an unarmed police force an outdated institution? Or is it a valuable statement that the police exist to serve the public and not to control or oppress them? And is it a model that could be adopted elsewhere?

    Here's a BBC feature to help make up your mind:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19641398

    [i]The deaths of two female police constables have brought into focus the unarmed status of most British police. Why does Britain hold firm against issuing guns to officers on the beat?

    It's the single most obvious feature that sets the British bobby apart from their counterparts overseas. Tourists and visitors regularly express surprise at the absence of firearms from the waists of officers patrolling the streets. But to most inhabitants of the UK - with the notable exception of Northern Ireland - it is a normal, unremarkable state of affairs that most front-line officers do not carry guns.

    Unremarkable, that is, until unarmed officers like Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone are killed in the line of duty. There are always those who question why Britain is out of step with most of the rest of the world, with the exceptions of the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and a handful of other nations. For a heavily urbanised country of its population size, the situation in Great Britain is arguably unique.

    Film director Michael Winner, founder of the Police Memorial Trust, and Toy Rayner, the former chairman of Essex Police Federation, have both called for officers to be routinely armed. But despite the loss of two of his officers, Greater Manchester Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy was quick to speak in support of the status quo. "We are passionate that the British style of policing is routinely unarmed policing. Sadly we know from the experience in America and other countries that having armed officers certainly does not mean, sadly, that police officers do not end up getting shot."

    But one thing is clear. When asked, police officers say overwhelmingly that they wish to remain unarmed. 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. It is a position shared by the Police Superintendents' Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

    The British public are not nearly so unanimous. An ICM poll in April 2004 found 47% supported arming all police, compared with 48% against. In 2007, the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange found 72% of 2,156 adults wanted to see more armed police patrols.

    For decades there have been incidents that have led to calls for issuing all officers with firearms. Cases like those of Sharon Beshenivsky, shot dead during a robbery in 2005, or of the three plain-clothes officers murdered by Harry Roberts in west London in 1966, or the killing of PC Sidney Miles in the Derek Bentley case of 1952.

    Few expect the system to change even after widespread public horror at the deaths of PCs Bone and Hughes. For one thing, incidents such as that in Greater Manchester are extremely rare. Overall gun crime, too, remains low. In 2010-11, England and Wales witnessed 388 firearm offences in which there was a fatal or serious injury, 13% lower than the previous 12 months. In Scotland during the same period, there were two fatal and 109 non-fatal injuries during the same period, a decade-long low.

    Additionally, officers, chief constables and politicians alike are wary of upsetting an equilibrium that has been maintained throughout Britain's 183-year policing history. "There's a general recognition that if the police are walking around with guns it changes things," says Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Arming the force would, say opponents, undermine the principle of policing by consent - the notion that the force owes its primary duty to the public, rather than to the state, as in other countries.

    This owes much to the historical foundations of British criminal justice, says Peter Waddington, professor of social policy at the University of Wolverhampton. "A great deal of what we take as normal about policing was set out in the early 19th Century," he says. "When Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police there was a very strong fear of the military - the masses feared the new force would be oppressive."

    A force that did not routinely carry firearms - and wore blue rather than red, which was associated with the infantry - was part of this effort to distinguish the early "Peelers" from the Army, Waddington says. Over time, this notion of guns being inimical to community policing - and, indeed, to the popular conception of the Dixon of Dock Green-style bobby - was reinforced.

    While some in London were issued with revolvers prior to 1936, from that date only trained officers at the rank of sergeant or above were issued with guns, and even then only if they could demonstrate a good reason for requiring one. Today only a small proportion of officers are authorised to use firearms. Latest Home Office figures show there were just 6,653 officers authorised to use firearms in England and Wales - about 5% of the total number.
  2. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    19 Sep '12 16:25
    I endorse unarmed police. But I want armed units on standby if normbenign moves into my neighbourhood.
  3. 19 Sep '12 18:06
    Originally posted by FMF
    I endorse unarmed police. But I want armed units on standby if normbenign moves into my neighbourhood.
    I would have to agree with you on that one. Especially since he has been known to threaten violence.
  4. Subscriber AThousandYoung
    It's only business
    19 Sep '12 22:41
    Apparently these UK police are getting killed responding to reports of armed robberies. If they know the criminal is armed...well...seems a bit silly to go in with that little club they carry and nothing else.
  5. 19 Sep '12 23:40
    Originally posted by FMF
    I endorse unarmed police. But I want armed units on standby if normbenign moves into my neighbourhood.
    What a turd.
  6. 19 Sep '12 23:41
    Originally posted by dryhump
    I would have to agree with you on that one. Especially since he has been known to threaten violence.
    When and where?
  7. 19 Sep '12 23:50
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    British police are almost unique in the world in that they do not normally carry weapons, a fact brought into the spotlight by the recent killing of two officers in the line of duty.

    So, is an unarmed police force an outdated institution? Or is it a valuable statement that the police exist to serve the public and not to control or oppress them? And is i ...[text shortened]... authorised to use firearms in England and Wales - about 5% of the total number.
    From many conversations with beat cops in a pretty tough city, many but not all would gladly patrol unarmed. Undercover, and backup units most likely would have to be armed. Much police work may be hindered by people's fear of an obviously armed officer.

    It might be that police vehicles ought to have long guns (shotguns) in secure trunk storage. Unarmed officers would have to use good judgement as to how to approach scenarios as they come up.

    I wonder if statistically armed police are really safer than unarmed? Does the pistol on their belt cause them to take risks they might otherwise avoid?
  8. 20 Sep '12 00:19
    Originally posted by AThousandYoung
    Apparently these UK police are getting killed responding to reports of armed robberies. If they know the criminal is armed...well...seems a bit silly to go in with that little club they carry and nothing else.
    How could there be armed robberies, I thought guns are illegal in the UK.
  9. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    20 Sep '12 00:50
    Originally posted by normbenign
    When and where?
    Seems you've gained yourself a bit of a reputation, normbenign.
  10. 20 Sep '12 01:23
    Originally posted by Eladar
    How could there be armed robberies, I thought guns are illegal in the UK.
    The robbers must be using air rifles under 12 foot pounds.
  11. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    20 Sep '12 01:50
    Originally posted by Eladar
    How could there be armed robberies, I thought guns are illegal in the UK.
    Thread 47947
  12. Subscriber AThousandYoung
    It's only business
    20 Sep '12 03:33
    Originally posted by Eladar
    How could there be armed robberies, I thought guns are illegal in the UK.
    Some of these police are being stabbed to death. Guns aren't the only arms.
  13. 20 Sep '12 05:23
    Originally posted by normbenign
    It might be that police vehicles ought to have long guns (shotguns) in secure trunk storage.

    That's the situation in Norway. Weapons are locked in patrol cars, and the officer needs permission from his supervisor to use them.

    I wonder if statistically armed police are really safer than unarmed? Does the pistol on their belt cause them to take risks they might otherwise avoid?

    Not according to this article, which suggests that arming police causes more violence both by, and against officers.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/09/19/gun-crime-police-around-the-world-uk-ireland_n_1896281.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

    [i]What's the difference between Norway and Sweden? The two Scandinavian countries are both affluent, with a commitment to liberal democracy and the welfare state. But there's one crucial difference; in Norway, police are not armed as a matter of course. But in Sweden, they regularly carry guns.

    The result? According to a 2010 study by Johannes Knutsson and Jon Strype, there are fewer injuries and deaths among Norwegian citizens.

    Dr Peter Squires, an expert on gun crime at the University of Brighton, says the study is not unusual. "Just the fact of arming the police means that they approach incidents more aggressively, there are more armed incidents, more people get shot," he tells The Huffington Post UK.

    That's one of the reasons why the UK, like Ireland, Norway and New Zealand, doesn't routinely arm its police - in contrast to the rest of the European world and north America. According to New Zealand police chief Peter Marshall, there's another reason why they don't routinely armed police: "International experience shows that making firearms more accessible raises certain risks that are very difficult to control."

    In 2010, the Washington Post calculated that out of 511 police officers killed by guns in America since 2000, 55 were killed by their own guns, or when the gun of another office was used against them. But it's not just the increased risk of violence, it's also about how police go about their job.
  14. 20 Sep '12 05:27
    Originally posted by Eladar
    How could there be armed robberies, I thought guns are illegal in the UK.
    Why did you think that? Guns are not illegal in Britain, but are strictly controlled. As a consequence, we have minimal gun crime, and armed robbery is very rare.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_the_United_Kingdom

    In England & Wales in 2009 there were 0.073 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants; for comparison, the figure for the United States was 3.0, about 40 times higher, and for Germany 0.2.