Police forces across the United Kingdom may arm uniformed officers in order to better respond to or prevent further terrorist attacks and other serious crimes.
Although the majority of terror attacks, gun crime and acid attacks take place in Greater London, most police forces investigating the plan to arm officers are based in rural areas. Senior police are concerned that only providing firearms to specialist officers will cause potentially fatal delays in armed police getting to the scene. Elite firearms officers typically support the police in the event of a serious incident, but they are usually slower than general police to arrive.
The police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall even suggested earlier this year that farmers and local gun owners should help police take out armed terrorists in the case of an attack. In spite of this, the government still ran a major national firearms surrender campaign last month.
The primary proposal is that all police will wear guns visibly on their belts, however other senior officers have suggested guns should only be stored securely in police patrol cars.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer of Devon and Cornwall constabulary told The Guardian newspaper:
“We have a terrorism threat, and then an increasing threat from serious and organized crime – gangs are coming into the south west from London and the north west – and [there are] copycat risks from people with mental health issues.”
He did not give further details on the gangs who are beginning to move out of London and operate across the country.
The U.K.’s rural specialist response vehicles usually carry just two armed police officers and cover a large area of the countryside. This makes it very difficult to neutralize active shooters before they have caused substantial harm or fled the scene.
Mr. Sawyer also added: “The current configuration [of armed officers] is not right. The response times are too long. The disparity is too great compared to other forces. We are actively working with the national counter-terrorism infrastructure to finalize our understanding of the threat and response times.”
When three Islamists, armed with large kitchen knives and fake suicide vests, killed 8 civilians and injured 48 on London Bridge in June, British Transport Police (BTP) officer Wayne Marques had to take on the armed terrorists carrying only a police truncheon. He was stabbed in the face and nearly lost his sight in one eye.
Although British Transport Police operate at transport hubs like train stations and the London Underground — which have recently become major Islamist targets — officers are usually only armed with handcuffs and a baton. Like the rural police in England, the BTP are also considering arming their officers with handguns.
Police Constable Keith Palmer was also unarmed when he was stabbed to death by terrorist Khalid Masood near the Houses of Parliament in March. Masood rammed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stormed the Parliamentary estate with a knife. He managed to kill five people and injure 50, before he was eventually shot dead by an armed protection officer who just “happened to be in the Palace of Westminster”.
BTP Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock told reporters that the string of major terrorist attacks on the U.K. in 2017 meant that senior officers and politicians would have to consider new options for arming the entire police force.
“We are actively considering and looking at the options – no decisions have been made – to see how we best protect the public from an obvious and real threat,” he said, “We cherish the model of an unarmed police force, but when you consider how the attack at Westminster was halted by an armed officer who was already there, you can speculate that if there had been armed officers at London Bridge, or other incidents, would the attack have been halted sooner?”
The number of authorised firearms officers in England and Wales fell by 18% from 2009 to 2016
Police chiefs are set to meet next month to debate the proposals, which were outlined in a paper titled “Arming the Police”. The report, which was published in October, prompted several forces to begin discussing firearms options, including the so-called “routine arming” of certain police. Due to major cuts in police funding by the current U.K. government, these “regular” officers are likely to receive just two weeks of firearms training with a Glock handgun.
Arming British police officers would be a stark contrast to the so-called “soft policing” currently employed by forces such as the London Metropolitan Police, in which officers allegedly ignore “low-level” crimes such as robbery and vandalism — instead focusing substantial resources on idiotic P.R. stunts, propaganda videos and tackling “online hate speech”.
Tucker is a foreign correspondent and media analyst for Not Liberal.