This House would arm the police

Most police officers in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, and New Zealand (as well as in some other, smaller countries) are routinely unarmed, whereas in the rest of the world, policemen are routinely armed. In the UK, some officers, such as those involved in diplomat protection work or airport/border security and anti-terrorism work do more routinely carry firearms, and armed response officers ( subject to certain authorisation protocols), can be quickly deployed as the need arises.  In other countries such as the United States, police weapons are frequently cited in relation to issues about police ‘militarization’ and concerning the abuse of police power—often the victimization of certain ethnic communities—and so there are sometimes calls for a reduction in police reliance on firepower and/or the adoption of other ‘less-lethal’ force technologies.  Yet, in a rapidly changing society, where terrorism and armed crime (and, not least, police protection) remain pressing issues, it is questioned whether having unarmed police is anything more than naïve idealism.

Title 
An armed police force will deter criminal behaviour
Point 

Most countries in Europe and North America have armed police forces, in part to deter criminal acts, but also to protect officers working in an armed or dangerous environment’ . Armed criminals operate in at least some areas of virtually every jurisdiction. Given this reality, a failure to routinely arm the police gives armed criminals a strong advantage in terms of their ability to threaten and commit violence, without any corresponding risk to themselves.[1] In Bristol in England where police are not routinely armed the deployment of armed police in inner-city areas in 2003 defused gang tensions and reduced crime enough to allow the armed police to be withdrawn again.[2] Only putting armed police in for brief periods will only have a short term impact, having permanently armed police is the only way to keep this deterrence in effect.  A world-wide ‘meta-study’ of armed police patrols found some evidence that in high violence areas, targeted armed police patrols could chill down the tensions and reassure the community but the evidence was not very compelling and the authors acknowledged that such a ‘sticking plaster’ approach was no long term solution to urban violence[3].

[1] Kopel, David B., ed., Guns: Who Should Have Them, Prometheus Books, 1995.

[2] BBC News, ‘Armed police patrols withdrawn’, 7 February 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2734997.stm accessed 20 September 2011

[3] Koper, C.S. and Mayo-Williams E. (2006) Police crackdowns on illegal gun carrying: a systematic review of their impact on gun crime.  Journal of Experimental Criminology  Vol. 2 pp. 227-261.

Counterpoint 

Arming the police can lead to a spiral of violence. In places where the police are not routinely armed, a portion of criminals will not arm themselves (since, for example, armed robbery often carries a higher sentence than robbery). Once the police are armed, criminals who do not match their capability operate under a strong disadvantage. Therefore, when the police become routinely armed, the criminal world fully arms itself in response.[1]
The mere fact of increased weapons possession (by both police and criminals) will in itself result in higher use, since in circumstances where arms may not be currently used (e.g. a police chase), either side carrying weapons will mean that they consider shooting an option which they did not formerly possess. A study comparing police dispute resolution in Norway and Sweden (the former unarmed, the latter armed)[2] tended to confirm that where police have guns, they are much more likely to use them – the Swedish police shot significantly more suspects.  Thus gun availability effectively reduces the options currently available to police along the ‘continuum of force’.  For example, if the police are armed, they are less likely to use less harmful alternatives such as tasers, “stun guns”, CS spray, and negotiation, even though the lowered lethality of a technology generally seems to imply it will be used more frequently.[3]

[1] Talking Point, ‘Should British police carry guns?’, BBC News, 12 February 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/1156341.stm accessed 20 September 2011

[2] Knutson , J and Strype J. 2003 Police use of Firearms in Norway and Sweden Policing and Society Vol. 13(4) pp. 429-439.

[3] Porter Henry, ‘Should the police ever shoot to kill?’ Liberty Central, 13 May 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/henryporter/2009/may/13/keith-richards-shoot-to-kill, accessed 20 September 2011

Title 
The police should be equipped to react to contemporary social problems
Point 

The old-fashioned notions of friendly neighborhood unarmed policing reflect the aspirations of a different age. As armed violence has increased sharply in parts of the developed world, the police need to redefine their role so that it is a more appropriate response to contemporary problems. In the UK, for example, gun crime almost doubled in the decade to 2008,[1] while the rise in London gun crime has tripled, the police need to be able to respond to this.[2]  There is also danger in being a state with unarmed police when others states have armed police forces. The unarmed nation may be seen as a “soft touch” compared to other regional nations. This can encourage an importation of criminality.

 

[1] Whitehead, Tom, 'Gun crime doubles in a decade', The Telegraph 27 October 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6438601/Gun-crime-doubles-in-a-decade.html

[2] Bamber, David, ‘Gun crime trebles as weapons and drugs flood British cities’, The Telegraph, 24 February 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1385843/Gun-crime-trebles-as-weapons-and-drugs-flood-British-cities.html, accessed 20 September 2011

Counterpoint 

The police should not be reacting in such a way that they exacerbate those problems. By routinely arming its police officers, the state effectively legitimizes the weapon as a symbol of authority. Whether or not this is pragmatic, it is an implied affirmation of the criminal sub-culture, which will accordingly be strengthened.

The argument about a rapid increase in gun crime in the UK depends upon a very limited and selective use of crime data.  Recorded gun crime did indeed rise by close to 105% between 1998 (when handguns were banned in the UK after the Dunblane tragedy) and 2003, but a large proportion of that increase is attributable to air weapon misuse and non-firing replica weapons.[1]  Since then the increase has largely stabilised and even fallen. A temporary trend, now brought under control, is not necessarily a strong argument for changing, for ever, the nature and character of British policing.

By this policy—especially in the absence of a Constitutional right for citizens to bear arms—the role of the police is essentially defined in opposition to at least part of the citizenry. This can be contrasted to the more common expectation that police and citizens operate under essentially common rules, for shared values and that policing is undertaken in a spirit of the minimum use of force and by ‘public consent’.

[1] Squires, P. 2008  Gun Crime: a Review of Evidence and Policy, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/guncrime.html

Title 
Policing is a dangerous job. Police officers should be allowed to arm themselves
Point 

There is a global increase in gun ownership, even in countries which did not traditionally think of themselves as having a large criminal gun culture.  Presently 1.8 million legally held guns are accounted for in the UK.[1] This increases the risks to frontline police officers of being the victims of gun crime. Police officers should have a right to protect themselves. Fewer officers may die on duty if they were better able to protect themselves. Arming the police is essentially a matter of self-defence rather than being actively involved in regular firearms incidents. This is shown by the fact that most routinely armed police never fire their weapon on active duty in their whole career.[2] If being a police officer is a safer job, then there will be a larger applicant pool to choose from, and thus better, more qualified police forces.

[1] Legal Community Against Violence, ‘Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines’, 2011, http://www.lcav.org/content/large_capacity_ammunition_magazines.pdf, accessed 20 September 2011

[2] BBC News, ‘Q&A: Armed police in the UK’, 8 June 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10260298, accessed 20 September 2011

Counterpoint 

When a police officer carries a weapon, she faces the risk of having that weapon turned on her by a criminal. It is also more obvious to a criminal that they need to shoot first against an armed officer whereas against an unarmed one they may be more open to listening and less likely to try and pre-empt being shot. So arming the police can sometimes make the police more vulnerable, rather than more protected.

If, as the opposing argument suggests, legally owned guns are part of the risk profile facing the police, measures ought to be taken to reduce the risk and restrict levels of gun ownership.  The police have had a National (legal) Firearms Database since 2006 allowing them to assess whether someone they will be dealing with is a gun owner or whether the premises they are attending contains licensed firearms. Criminal misuse of illegal firearms is a different matter although, as has been argued, protection and safety are not the same as ‘armed’ and more armed police will probably mean more shootings and, equally probably, more mistakes and armed confrontations.[1]

[1] P. Squires and P Kennison 2010 Shooting to Kill: Policing, Firearms and armed  response.  Oxford, Wiley/Blackwell.

Title 
Arming the police makes communities feel safer
Point 

Armed police reassure law-abiding citizens at a time when gun-related crime is increasing in most European countries and parts of North America. In the UK 28 gun crimes are committed every day.[1] Much public opinion holds that something must be done to tackle this.[2]

The sight of armed police officers patrolling the streets will not only deter gangs from harassing residents, but will instil in communities a confidence that they are being properly protected. Gangs are not interested in fighting the police; they are more concerned about attacks from other gangs in their area who are willing to break the law and attack them unprovoked.

People feel safer when they see armed police, especially if they perceive them as a response to a heightened risk. Thus, for example, police officers at British airports routinely carry sub-machine guns, although there is no evidential pattern to suggest that this high-visibility weaponry offers any situational strategic advantage over a more subtle arming. 

[1] Hope, Christopher, ’28 gun crimes committed in UK every day’, The Telegraph, 24 January 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1576406/28-gun-crimes-committed-in-UK-every-day.html, accessed 20 September 2011

[2] Shearing, Clifford et al., Lengthening the Arm of the Law: Enhancing Police Resources in the Twenty-First Century, (Cambridge Studies in Criminology, 2008) 

Counterpoint 

Arming police would negatively impact the relationship between the police and the community – this is especially so in relation to some communities which feel that they bear the brunt of heavy, enforcement-led policing  (for example young men in urban areas, ethnic minority groups).[1]   Arming the police might delegitimise their role as community standard bearers. Many law-abiding citizens who have no connection to the criminal underworld are horrified by armed police, whom they regard as alien to their cultural frame of reference.

Guns potentially place a distance between the people and the police and impact the relationship in a negative way. It impacts not only those who would perform potentially criminal activity, but even day to day police interaction such as breathalysing and spot checks on vehicles. The police would no longer be viewed as ‘upholding the peace’ but rather enforcing through threat.

Even worse than the distancing effect, lethal weaponry is also a potent symbol of brutality. This can undermine the ability of the police to be seen as a key constituent part of civil society. This problem is exacerbated when this symbolic brutality is applied in ways that deviate from the expectations of civil society, for example through unfair racial profiling.

Finally – arming the police may well alter the profile of police recruits.  Police managers sometimes remark that the very last person to trust with a firearm is the one who wants one the most.

[1] Jefferson, T. (1990) The Case against Paramilitary Policing, Milton Keynes, Open University Press;  P. Scharf and A. Binder 1983 The Badge and the Bullet: Police Use of Deadly Force, New York, Praeger; Kraska, P. and Kappeler, V.E. 1997  Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units  Social Problems, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Feb., 1997), pp. 1-18.

 

Title 
Arming the police is a necessary step
Point 

Police officers are routinely armed already in a variety of situations. This is a small step, as police officers are routinely armed already in a variety of situations, e.g. at airports and when providing security for political leaders or institutions. As mentioned earlier armed police have even been used before on routine patrols in areas where there has been gun crime.[1] Already rapid-response units of armed officers are available to deal with armed criminals, but these need to be specially summoned and authorised. Often, they arrive too late to do any good. The next obvious step would be to have many more police armed so as to make this response much faster.

[1] BBC News, ‘Armed police patrols withdrawn’, 7 February 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2734997.stm accessed 20 September 2011

Counterpoint 

The large majority of policewomen and men go through their whole career without handling firearms. The numbers in the firearms authorised officers are low, only 6780 in 2007-8 out of more than 100,000 police,[1] and even these have been criticised by SAS officers who stated “When the tension starts to rise and the adrenaline is flowing, the ‘red mist’ seems to descend on armed police officers who become very trigger-happy. This has been shown time and again in training exercises.”[2] Any expansion of the numbers of police carrying firearms could result in many more unsuitable police carrying guns.

[1] Coaker, Vernon, ‘Statistics on police use of firearms in England and Wales 2007-08’, Home Office, 2 March 2009, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/non-personal-data/police/police-firearms-use-2007-2008?view=Standard&pubID=807224, accessed 20 September 2011

[2] Winnett, Robert, ‘SAS trainers denounce ‘gung ho’ armed police’, The Sunday Times’, 18 September 2005, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article567961.ece, accessed 20 September 2011 (original article is no offline but the quote was not picked up by other newspapers)

Title 
Recruitment will be adversely affected if the police are armed
Point 

The police are split on this issue at all levels, so it would be wrong to listen only to the loudest voices. The police should also be held firmly under civilian control. Policy areas such as the carrying of firearms or stop-and-search procedure should be subject to political decisions and accountability. Recruitment may well be adversely affected if the police are armed; many current officers opposed to this measure may leave, and others like them will not apply to join the force in the future. Do we want a police force largely composed of people who want to carry a gun every day? Japan’s police force are trained in combat without weapons and they some of the lowest crime rates in the world. The country has a steadily decreasing crime rate, with this year alone, overall crime has decreased by 1.4%.[1]

[1] Eguchi, Arichika, and Kanayama, Taisuke, ‘Japan’s Challenge on the Increase in Crime in the New Century’, Police Policy Research Center,   http://www.npa.go.jp/english/seisaku2/crime_reduction.pdf, accessed 20 September 2011

Counterpoint 

The police themselves are calling for more routine arming in the United Kingdom, through both the unions that represent rank and file policemen, and the bodies which speak for the senior officers. If we want them to uphold law and order, we should trust the police's judgement about the tools they need to carry out their task. To the contrary, recruitment will also suffer if police officers are seen as too vulnerable, as easy targets for criminals because they have no proper means to defend themselves.

Title 
When the police are armed, mistakes will lead to innocent people getting shot
Point 

Even with the special selection measures and intensive training given to firearms officers, mistakes sometimes occur, and innocent people are shot. This can happen either by mistake because the armed officers are acting on inaccurate information, or because they are bystanders caught in the cross-fire of a shoot-out. Arming all police officers would mean ditching the current stringent selection methods for who is armed, and would inevitably result in less training being provided, so mistakes would become much more common and more people would be wounded or killed. Such as the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York in 1999, or the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes at Stockwell underground station in 2005.[1]  Squires and Kennison, in their 2010 book, detail a number of case studies of mistaken police shootings, further details can be found on the IPCC Inquiry reports website.[2]

[1] The New York Times, ‘Amadou Diallo’, http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/d/amadou_diallo/index.html, accessed 20 September 2011

[2] P. Squires and P Kennison 2010 Shooting to Kill: Policing, Firearms and armed  response.  Oxford, Wiley/Blackwell.

Counterpoint 

Armed police already exist in a number of situations and a rise in mistaken shootings that the opposition fear is not evident in these areas.

Title 
Arming the police will cause an escalation in criminal violence
Point 

The British Crime Survey maintains that gun crime is very rare throughout the UK. The reason communities are so afraid is that the over-zealous media continually hype up individual incidences of gun crime in order to attract more readers. The statistics show that knife and gun crime are overrepresented in the news, with 25% of newspapers stories on average being dedicated to crime.[1] Because of this exaggerated coverage, there is a moral panic in which people think that if they are attacked it will be by a knife-wielding maniac. This is simply not true. There is more chance that you will be in a car accident than be attacked on the street.

Introducing guns onto the streets, even in a legal and well-intentioned manner is a trigger for increasing the number of guns that gangs and organised crime groups bring onto the street.

[1] Media Awareness Network, ‘TV Crime Facts – Teaching Backgrounder’ http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/educational/teaching_backgrounders/crime/tv_crime_facts.cfm, accessed 20 September 2011

Counterpoint 

Violence is already escalating and we need a robust response. Many communities are vulnerable to postcode gangs comprised of young people aged 14 and upwards who are armed and dangerous and making their areas unsafe to live in. Only a robust and proactive response from the police such as patrolling such territories with firearms so as to protect themselves and innocent civilians will address this problem.

Title 
Arming the police does not deal with the causes underlying violence
Point 

The real issues that cause crime usually lie in societal issues and a lack of a proper rehabilitation effort in the justice system. The root problems are therefore not being solved by arming the police. This policy only masks the problems societies face. Governments need to make more long-term, sustainable investments. They should be attempting to change the culture that creates violence, providing jobs for those who are in poverty making sure that everyone feels they have a stake in society, rather than rely on a “quick fix” plan that tackles none of the real issues.

Counterpoint 

Arming police is not mutually exclusive with other policies that could deal with the whole spectrum of crime-related issues. This debate is not suggesting that other issues related to crime will not be dealt with. Rather that in order to facilitate a reduction in crime the criminal justice system will be served by police who are armed. It is untrue to suggest that simply because the police are armed, other integral parts of crime reduction will be ignored.  

Bibliography 

Bamber, David, ‘Gun crime trebles as weapons and drugs flood British cities’, The Telegraph, 24 February 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1385843/Gun-crime-trebles-as-weapons-and-drugs-flood-British-cities.html, accessed 20 September 2011

BBC News, ‘Armed police patrols withdrawn’, 7 February 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2734997.stm accessed 20 September 2011

BBC News, ‘Q&A: Armed police in the UK’, 8 June 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10260298, accessed 20 September 2011

Coaker, Vernon, ‘Statistics on police use of firearms in England and Wales 2007-08’, Home Office, 2 March 2009, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/non-personal-data/police/police-firearms-use-2007-2008?view=Standard&pubID=807224, accessed 20 September 2011

Eguchi, Arichika, and Kanayama, Taisuke, ‘Japan’s Challenge on the Increase in Crime in the New Century’, Police Policy Research Center,   http://www.npa.go.jp/english/seisaku2/crime_reduction.pdf, accessed 20 September 2011

Hope, Christopher, ’28 gun crimes committed in UK every day’, The Telegraph, 24 January 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1576406/28-gun-crimes-committed-in-UK-every-day.html, accessed 20 September 2011

Jefferson, T. (1990) The Case against Paramilitary Policing, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

Kopel, David B., ed., Guns: Who Should Have Them, Prometheus Books, 1995.

Koper, C.S. and Mayo-Williams E. (2006) Police crackdowns on illegal gun carrying: a systematic review of their impact on gun crime.  Journal of Experimental Criminology  Vol. 2 pp. 227-261.

Knutson , J and Strype J. 2003 Police use of Firearms in Norway and Sweden Policing and Society Vol. 13(4) pp. 429-439.

Kraska, P. and Kappeler, V.E. 1997  Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units  Social Problems, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Feb., 1997), pp. 1-18.

Legal Community Against Violence, ‘Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines’, 2011, http://www.lcav.org/content/large_capacity_ammunition_magazines.pdf, accessed 20 September 2011

Media Awareness Network, ‘TV Crime Facts – Teaching Backgrounder’ http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/educational/teaching_backgrounders/crime/tv_crime_facts.cfm, accessed 20 September 2011

Porter Henry, ‘Should the police ever shoot to kill?’ Liberty Central, 13 May 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/henryporter/2009/may/13/keith-richards-shoot-to-kill, accessed 20 September 2011

Scharf, P. and  A. Binder 1983 The Badge and the Bullet: Police Use of Deadly Force, New York, Praeger;

Shearing, Clifford et al., Lengthening the Arm of the Law: Enhancing Police Resources in the Twenty-First Century, (Cambridge Studies in Criminology, 2008)

Squires, P. 2008  Gun Crime: a Review of Evidence and Policy, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/guncrime.html

P. Squires and P Kennison 2010 Shooting to Kill: Policing, Firearms and armed  response.  Oxford, Wiley/Blackwell.

Talking Point, ‘Should British police carry guns?’, BBC News, 12 February 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/1156341.stm accessed 20 September 2011

The New York Times, ‘Amadou Diallo’, http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/d/amadou_diallo/index.html, accessed 20 September 2011

Whitehead, Tom, 'Gun crime doubles in a decade', The Telegraph 27 October 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6438601/Gun-crime-doubles-in-a-decade.htm

Winnett, Robert, ‘SAS trainers denounce ‘gung ho’ armed police’, The Sunday Times’, 18 September 2005, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article567961.ece, accessed 20 September 2011

 

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