Following the death of Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, the two policewomen tragically killed recently in Manchester, the question of whether the police should be armed has once again entered the public domain. I strongly believe that the police in Britain should not routinely carry firearms. I have been interested to note that even in the aftermath of these brutal killings there seems to be a consensus between the Government, the press, the public and police chiefs that arming our officers is not the way to make our streets safer.
The experience of many other countries shows that routinely arming Police Officers does not necessarily increase their safety. America’s gun laws are far more relaxed than those in the UK with all police personnel routinely armed yet the murder by firearms rate is forty times higher than in the UK. In 2010 over 12.5% of officers murdered on duty in the US were shot with their own weapon.
British Bobbies are highly regarded but arming them would alter the dynamic of their relationship with the public. Many people find armed officers less approachable than their unarmed colleagues. There is therefore a danger that arming all police officers would change the relationship that exists between the police and the public. It has also been shown in numerous surveys that the police themselves are against being routinely armed.
Only around five per cent of serving police officers are armed which enables them to be highly trained. At present there is a rigorous initial training programme followed by a requirement to be recertified every two or six months, depending on the type of weapon. If all Police Officers were required to be armed then what would happen to those who failed to make the grade? Would they be taken off the streets or would there inevitably be a reduction in the standards currently required for an officer to be armed? Neither of these options would be welcome. We will never know if Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes would have lived had they been armed when they went out on duty that day but I still feel that arming our Police Force would ultimately result in more loss of life and an irreversible change in policing Britain’s streets.