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Is It Time To Arm The British Police?


Last updated on September 20th, 2023 at 08:16 pm

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The question is really aimed at my former colleagues but please feel free to join in whoever you are.

The world has changed after Paris 2015. First Charlie Ebdo and the accompanying attacks at the beginning of the year. Then, tragically, Friday the 13th.

The events unfolding within the Bataclan Theatre must have been horrific and unthinkable when relayed to the Gendarmes by the survivors that managed to escape.  Faced with horrendous consequences for not doing anything the French launched s rapid strike on the theatre in a desperate attempt to rescue what they could from an unthinkable situation.  I can only imagine imagine how the cops on the street and their leaders must have felt, and they had very little time in which to act, it seems that theatre-goers were being murdered one by one.

How would we have dealt with a similar scenario?  It does seem increasingly likely that we might have to, someday, somewhere.

Is It Time To Arm The British Police?

We have Armed Police available, every Force (I believe) now fields a number of Armed Police in ARVs routinely, 24 hours per day.  These men and women are fantastically well trained and superbly equipped, they will put their lives on the line at a moment’s notice in an attempt to resolve whatever problem they are faced with.  I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that our armed cops would have done their very best to resolve the ‘Bataclan’ scenario if they were faced with it.  Their courage and professionalism is right up there with the very best, no question.

The biggest problem, as I see it, is that even if you can find a senior officer with the balls to use the assets at his/her disposal, how long would it take to muster SUFFICIENT resources at the scene to be effective.

In this respect the French had it easy, their Gendarmes are routinely armed, and there seemed to be plenty of them available.  An ‘elite’ unit was on scene very quickly.

In the UK we have a Chancellor intent on slashing budgets, a Prime Minister who gives every impression of an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand and a Home Secretary and her entourage who seem to be intent on destroying the very fabric of British a Policing, and by extension our ability to mount an effective First Line response.

Systems are in place across the country to move suitably equipped and trained Police Officers to wherever they are needed.  The system is tried and tested and it works.  Where it is weak is when that help is needed NOW.  We can move cops from Manchester to London for example, but the two main issues are a) it takes time, and b) in the initial stages it leaves behind a void, which, initially, represents a vulnerability to a secondary attack.

The victims trapped in a nightclub being shot one by one, wouldn’t be terribly reassured to be told “help is on way, it will be here in 2 or 3 hours”. They needed appropriate help IMMEDIATELY.

As a cop I never wanted to be armed.  I never for one moment wanted ‘my’ Met to be paramilitary, routinely armed to the teeth and visible everywhere.

However, two things have changed since I was serving

1). The face of International Terrorism has changed.  9/11 happened in the dying months of my career. 7/7 after I had retired.  The events in Paris and elsewhere now getting more frequent and moving closer to home.

2). The face of Policing has changed since I retired.  The Home Secretary’s ‘Reforms’ have made it slmost inevitable that we could not mount an Immediate Response consisting of anything other than Cannon Fodder.  Mrs May has insisted on ruthlessly cutting budgets and resources.  In response PCCs have sold off Police Stations by the score.  The necessary resources are fewer and further away.

DeadBadgerShire actually consists of 3 large, rural counties.  To be honest I don’t actually know how many ARVs are available to the Force at any given moment, but even with the advantage of blue lights and sirens it would take a while to get them all together to mount an Initial Response.  Even in London they would encounter similar problems.

In theory we can call on the Army, but they are also being systematically reduced, many are already deployed abroad somewhere,  and where will the next attack on UK soil be?  It doesn’t have to be London, there are plenty of international airports to choose from for example.

So what do we want?  Is it time to complete the change in British Policing and, at the very least, train all of our Front Line cops, even if they are not routinely armed they will be trained and available to be armed.  Do we put firearms and trained officers in ALL of our Response Vehicles, locked in the boot etc until needed? Or do we go the way of our Continental Cousins and just arm all of our Cops on the streets 24 hours a day?

I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I’m quite happy to provoke a debate.  Cop, Ex Cop, Member of Public, what is your view.

All that I think I know is that in the modern world Islamic State and Dixon of Dock Green probably can’t co-exist.

What think you?

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10 thoughts on “Is It Time To Arm The British Police?”

  1. Selection, training ,discipline and supervision are corner stones on which any Police Service should be based.
    I too was never in favour of all Police Officers being routinely armed but I also do not believe that Police Officers should be cannon fodder either.
    If Police are to be armed and as is suggested many are not capable, even those already selected and entrusted with that resposability then something is badly wrong. I may have been away from the Police for a wee while but I would hope things are not as bad as suggested.
    Many of the armed officers I served with were ex armed forces others were not and I was always confident that they could be relied upon!
    Clearly in the light of recent events things do need to be reviewed and if that also means that Police selection needs to be reviewed then so be it.

  2. Six days ago Theresa May reckons some Forces will lose their dedicated
    firearms units and have to share.

    I wonder what she’s thinking now!

  3. Before joining the police I served in the Army, for almost 3 years I carried a personal weapon in NI. I underwent extensive and ongoing weapon training to ensure I could use the weapon safely and effectively. It was an onerous responsibility. Fortunately one I never had to exercise. It was a very strange feeling when on leave in the UK without that weapon. A feeling of nakedness, vulnerability.
    I joined the police and firmly believed that it should be an unarmed organisation a clear boundary between the military and civil power. Sadly I saw examples of poor weapon handling by ‘trained’ police officers during my career. It was a part of the service that did seem to attract a certain sort of ‘poser’.
    Times have however indeed changed as these individuals simply want to kill and the first officers on scene in this country will be unarmed. I know they will put their safety to one side and they will pay the price.
    Now, sadly, I fully support the arming of uniform police officers on duty. Selection of new recruits must be in part to ensure they are psychologically able to perform in this role.

  4. Alan,

    I am not convinced we need a public debate on the question you pose: Is It Time To Arm The British Police?

    We already have a number of armed civilian police officers, mainly in specialist units outside London and a number of other limited role armed police forces, notably MoD Police and Civil Nuclear. Plus an all-armed PSNI.

    A major obstacle to extending armed civil police on the ‘mainland’ is that a majority of officers in my opinion neither want nor are fit to carry a firearm.

    London is clearly the most likely target for terrorism, but we know the use of firearms or other dangerous weapons or reported such incidents led to armed officers being deployed. Thankfully rarely without a shot being fired.

    Perhaps we need – in an ideal world (not what we have today thanks to HMG) – a full-time, civilian armed police on a national basis outside London? Let MPS do what they know best.

  5. This is a debate that has actually been avoided for many years, why? We’ll probably because successive governments have not wanted the police to have any real power, since their primary objective has been and now clearly is, dismantling the free from political influence policing, to privatise it and make it a corporate tool. Having a force, on which they are truly dependant does not fit with political plans. Which is why we currently find our primary first line of defence is the 4’0″ Charles chuffing ton-smythe(BA) and Clarissa Arty-Fartington (BA Hons in interpretive dance) both armed with a casco, a gay pride leaflet and a customer satisfaction survey form, should the casco be felt too oppressive in dealing with a misguided ethnic minority youth armed with an AK 47………..

    1. What a wonderful image that put in my head, but the points are good ones. Can’t have G4$ and $ERCO running around with guns can we?

  6. Alan
    It is a good subject for debate and one that is over due.
    I to do not question the bravery and commitment of our officers be they armed or not.
    I know of many unarmed officers who tackled armed criminals with little thought for their own safety.
    I know many who did not even receive recognition for their actions.
    Although not an everyday occurrence it was not that unusual to have to take a knive or gun off some unsavoury individual.

    If a similar event took place in the UK as happened in Paris tomorrow and lives were at risk it would not surprise me if unarmed officers tried to save lives even at the cost of their own!

    The officers of SO19 who man ARV’s who would undoubtedly be the first armed officers on scene (unless in Central London & it then might be DPG) who I know are well trained and dedicated would do what they could and if lives were at risk would enter to save lives and neutralise any threat.
    No question!

    However if we had a similar situation as occurred in Paris (or worse) where we have multiple gunmen at multiple venues who are intent on maximum casualties we could not respond as effectively as we would like.
    Certainly not as effectively as the French or in the numbers.

    It is not even a case of arming all officers.
    A handgun against an AK or similar is no competition!
    What is required is the ability to respond quickly and effectively with specialist armed officers in sufficient numbers to deal with such events.
    The emphasis is on speed, numbers, and armed and trained appropriately.

    Yes we can mobilise army units.
    We have some specialists army units who are trained for such situations and if I ever find myself in such a situation I would hope those are the people who will be coming to get me out.
    But they have world wide commitments.
    There are not enough and they are spread to thin.
    Most army are not trained in “hostage” rescue and again mobilising them for an event that is already happening is a problem!

    Make no mistake this is not Cops and robbers, were the bad guys just want to get away with whatever crime it is they may have committed.
    These extremists do not want to get away!
    They are extreme, they are not interested in standoff situations or holding hostages. The people they seize are not there to be bargained for to get some political consideration or have a fellow radical released. They seize people to kill them, they are not taken as hostages!
    They are only interested in causing the maximum damage and killing as many people as possible.
    They have no shortage of willing volunteers and France is not their only target.
    They have been given the opportunity to get a large number of their followers into the west and they will use that opportunity. These are trained and battle hardened individuals.

    I’m sure we have every armed officer available out on the street at this time all on cancelled days of and animal leave with Specialist Army Units waiting in the wings.
    What happens in a month or 6 months or a year when things have settled down and we can no longer afford to keep all these officers from their normal commitments and days off.

    We do need to come up with an answer and quickly!
    At this time, no matter the quality and commitment of the officers we have available, it is too litte and to thinly spread!

    I was at one time routinely armed, and I was never in favour of all officers being routinely armed.
    These are not normal times and the answer is not just giving all officers a Glock and hoping for the best!
    We will need a better response than that!

    1. I don’t pretend to have the answers but we need to have this debate sooner rather than later, before it’s too late

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