Calls to arm police force after officers murdered

Armed police in Downing St. On the UK mainland, police with firearms are rarely seen © Getty Images

Most British police go unarmed, but the double murder of two young WPCs has led to calls for tougher protection for officers and harsher treatment of offenders and suspects.

By the end of the 1990s Manchester had earned the nickname ‘Gunchester’ because there were so many firearms offences on its streets. A combination of approaches has changed all that: sophisticated policing, court convictions and community rebuilding have brought relative peace to gang-prone areas.

But this week the shocking murder of two policewomen, called to the scene of a burglary in the northern city while unarmed, has reawakened fears about whether criminals have unfair advantages over those who protect us against them.

Nicola Hughes, 23, and Fiona Bone, 32, were killed in a gun and grenade attack after what seems to have been a hoax call from a man out on bail after he was arrested for another murder in June. Greater Manchester Police have received over 25,000 messages of condolence from the public, amid speculation about how the double tragedy could have been avoided.

WPC Bone’s father has called for the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing a police officer – he was supported by the bereaved relatives of other murdered police and by the veteran hard-line Conservative Lord Tebbitt, who argued it would deter even hardened criminals.

The House of Commons committee which investigates policing and criminal justice says it is concerned that such a dangerous individual was out on bail and free to kill again.

But perhaps most controversially, as the news story broke on Tuesday, there were immediate calls to arm the police. At present only 5% of the mainland police are trained in handling firearms and called in when necessary (In Northern Ireland, the challenges and the policing are very different).

The Association of Chief Police Officers, rejected the calls, saying international comparisons showed that having a gun cannot protect officers. More guns, they said, even if handled by police, would mean an escalation of street violence.

Manchester’s top policeman said he believed ‘passionately’ that his officers could only do their job in the community if they remained unarmed. Since the 19th century, the police have tried to be approachable, and surveys show that most of them still think they would do a worse job if they had guns.

Consensus or deafness?

Every serving politician who has spoken on the issue, along with every senior police officer, rejects the suggestion that the police should armed. Relatives of the the victims, however, tend to see improving protection for individual officers as top priority. Is it right that these voices are so easily dismissed? Or are those forming a consensus for the status quo right because they know what sort of approaches really do cut crime, they can weigh up the evidence and make policy without being swayed by the emotional shock of incidents like this one?

You Decide

  1. Are you frightened of crime? What are your feelings based on?
  2. Should a murder conviction carry the death penalty? What about murder of a policeman or policewoman?

Activities

  1. Look at the timeline of police murders: how many might have been prevented by routinely arming police? How many were down to other factors?
  2. Local reporting: interview people in your area. Are residents and businesses worried about crime? What are their experiences? What do your local police say and what can you find about about the real level of offending near you? Write your account or make a short video report.

Some People Say...

“These days, only a gun guarantees respect”

What do you think?

Q & A

Surely the police risk their lives every day?
They do. But remarkably few are killed. This double murder has shocked the whole country because it is the worst loss of police lives since 1966. In fact, the murder rate as a whole is down to its lowest level for nearly 30 years.
That is really surprising.
Aha! That reaction makes you typical. Fear of crime in the UK runs higher than the crime statistics would justify: 60% believe it has gone up when actually, with the exception of theft, it has gone down. Analysts, including the opinion pollsters, blame media reporting for making readers and viewers think crime is rife. It is important to protect yourself, but living in fear can make life unnecessarily miserable – especially for the young or the old.

Word Watch

Consensus
The prevailing or dominant point of view. A word used approvingly by those who agree with it, and angrily by those who oppose.
Veteran
Long-serving, experienced. Sometimes it can also mean no longer part of an organisation, movement, or the services.
The status quo
The current situation or arrangements: in this case, limited use of firearms by the police.

Subjects

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