There are two debates on arming the police. The first is the societal one – do we give up our model of “policing by consent”.
The second is – will officers themselves agree to carry a weapon if mandated by Parliament?
The Societal Issue
We have a policing model that is the envy of the world.
People look at our police in awe because we have more scrutiny and more accountability than anywhere else in the world. PCCs added to that in 2012. Only a handful of countries worldwide have elected politicians, at a local level, who hold their police to account. Similarly, few countries allow the public to assist in policing as a volunteer or as a Special Constable. That envy exists at a more basic level too – our law enforcement officers police by consent. We allow our police officers to tell us what to do, to arrest us or direct us, to stop and search us. That consent, was described by the grandfather of policing, Robert Peel, as “the public are the police, and the police are the public”. This is intrinsic to the very fabric of our society and to our values. We will lose that model of policing for ever, if every officer is armed.
It is clear that after the atrocities in Paris and Brussels, we have to arm more officers to keep the police and the public they serve safe. New tactics such as multiple site suicide attacks were game changers and that game has changed for ever. We also know that the remit for officers to shoot a terrorist have changed in the light of those awful attacks. Officers need to shoot quickly, to prevent multiple casualties, and to prevent a suicide bomber detonating a device attached to them.
As your Police and Crime Commissioner, I will ensure money and resources are available to arm as many police officers as we need to ensure public safety.
However, as a matter of general policy, I will resist any attempt to issue all officers with firearms. If that were agreed to, our model of policing and, indeed, our society would be changed for ever.
The impact of such a decision for me personally would be immense. For me, if I was PCC at the time, it would be a resigning issue. If that decision was made, an armed police force would negate the need for a PCC within five years. Our model of policing by consent would be finished and our accountability and governance model would change for ever.
The individual moral decision
As a former police officer, I know and understand the dilemma here. Fifteen years ago I applied for, and was successful at interview for, a role in Northern Ireland as a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). The letter of appointment then mentioned I would have to become a firearms authorised officer, and carry a gun. This had never been mentioned during the application or interview process. I reluctantly withdrew my application because my conscience would not permit me to carry a firearm. Whilst I admire our armed officers, I know I could never knowingly kill another person, whatever the reason.
Every officer in the UK has the same moral dilemma. Some want to carry guns, and those people do courageous and dangerous work to keep us safe against the ultimate threat. But others, like me when I was a serving officer, could never carry a firearm and we have to respect that position.
If a decision was taken to arm all officers, we would see police officers leaving in droves as many followed their consciences and sought new jobs. Not only would we lose a valuable and experienced resource but, over time, we would see a new type of police officer join, one who was taught to carry a gun in training before they ever met the public they would serve.
Thanks for reading this,