28 February 2019
The bigger question around routinely arming officers with guns in the UK is how it could further affect recruitment. Not everyone wants to carry a firearm and if you look at the percentages across the country there’s a very small percentage of officers authorised to carry and use one.
My concern is if we go down that road, it would be compulsory for officers to undertake firearms training and we would lose some strong candidates coming into the police service due to the 10 to 12 week Armed Response Vehicle course week being so physically and mentally demanding. There is however a shorter 4 to 5 week course for Authorised Firearms Officers (AFO’s) who undertake a non-emergency response role. It’s a question of what does routine arming look like and do the public want it?
Recruitment in firearms has always been difficult and on top of this there is no additional pay for the role so there is no financial incentive. There’s also the prospect of taking someone’s life – not everyone is prepared to do that because when you pull that trigger and someone dies, people know there is going to be a very thorough investigation and an inquest with the spotlight on that officer.
In the UK, officers pull the trigger on average 2 to 3 times a year and when people die it has a huge impact. We are not a military service, we don’t do it by distance with artillery - it’s often close and personal, you can see the person you are shooting and through poor experiences and poor, protracted investigations by the Independent Office for Police Complaints that’s had a knock on effect and legacy where people think you would have to be mad to want to carry a firearm.
You have to use it knowing the focus is going to be on you for 12 months to two years – maybe even three or four - and in the case of ex-Met officer Anthony Long it was 10 years from the time he shot Azelle Rodney to go to Crown Court to be acquitted of murder.
Influencing the IOPC would be a positive step. Sending out an important message to them that it’s a job that we have to do, we are trained professionals in what we do and no one sets out at the start of their shift with the intent of taking someone’s life – to pull that trigger is a very impactive decision for them, their families, but also for the people shot and the family of those involved.
Mistakes can happen at any time during police work, but it shouldn’t be sanction based all the time and there should be opportunities to learn, reflect and have strong processes in places to look after those officers and protect them and their families – if we don’t have that, officers won’t come into firearms policing. They will be afraid to commit to use of force.
Take the Jermaine Baker shooting in 2015, and the arrest of W80. We had messages flood in from officer’s families asking whether their partners were going to be arrested for doing their job. The CPS haven’t pressed charges and now the inquest looms, but it’s had a lasting effect.
I also have concerns over the judicial system perhaps failing to fully comprehend the PIP process, resulting in questioning whether officers’ statements have changed when they haven’t – they have just expanded them as per the approved Stage 3 and Stage 4 statements process. I would also like courts to understand that body worn video isn’t the only option to show the course of events; it doesn’t capture the officer’s feelings or emotions or their thought processes and at times there is a mischievousness by barristers who freeze frame footage to highlight something when actually you need to play the video in real time to understand the nature of the job and get a fully-rounded picture first.
It’s very difficult sometimes for people to understand. In the cold light of day you can look at anything and criticise it – that officer was there, saw things, felt things that the officer can only explain.
Solicitors and barristers have the time to go over every frame of cctv or body worn video for hours –an officers makes a decision in a split second and sometimes it’s difficult for people to appreciate that. In my opinion they make the right decision every time- but others obviously don’t see it that way.
If criminals wants to use a weapon to commit criminality, there should be that expectation they will be dealt with by trained armed professionals that will do the job asked of them to protect the public and their colleagues – you give me a better way to stop someone from committing armed crime and I’ll take it every day of the week so my colleagues don’t have to go through the anxiety, the stress, the pressure and the publicity at times of having microseconds pulled apart in weeks at inquests or at Crown Court for doing their job.
It’s getting there, but there’s still a fair way to go and I hope through the work of the PFEW we can help to influence things in a positive manner and show the need for firearms officers.