In Depth

Armed police: pros and cons

The Met is facing a backlash over proposals to deploy armed foot patrols

The Metropolitan Police has sparked controversy by suggesting that armed police may be deployed to patrol areas of London where “gang activity is likely”, following a year of record violent crime levels.

Met Commissioner Cressida Dick reportedly told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that armed officers would only be sent out in “extreme circumstances”. 

A leaked internal memo from Dick also said that such patrols would only be used  for “short periods of time” and would be “based on an informed and reliable intelligence picture of where gang activity is likely”, reports the BBC.

Despite such reassurances, the proposals have already met with a fierce backlash.

Stafford Scott of the Monitoring Group, which campaigns against police injustice, argued: “The more oppressive the policing and state response is, the more the violence will increase. These kids have been bullied by the police and its partners for most of their lives.”

Len Duvall, a Labour member of the London Assembly, is calling on the city’s mayor to intervene. “Sadiq Khan should step in and stop this pending a full consultation,” Duvall said.

But what are the pros and cons of armed patrols?

Pros

Curbing violent crime 

The number of violent deaths in London has reached 127 so far this year, surpassing the 2017 total of 116 killings, according to the BBC.

The Met says its plans to involve armed police on foot patrols emerged from a “recent internal discussion” into how to tackle the growing crisis.

Dick said: “As part of our response to the increase in violent crime in London we are examining how our armed officers can provide extra support and augment other units, either in response to a serious assault, or to be deployed to areas where we have intelligence that serious violence is imminent.”

Tackling terrorism

A national survey by the Police Federation last year showed that 55% of police in the UK said they would carry a firearm if asked or ordered to, up by 11% from a 2006 poll.

The Guardian says the increased support “demonstrates to the public that the mood is changing within policing after terrorist attacks” like that which left 130 people dead in Paris in November 2015, with ministers and police chiefs keen to enlist more specially trained armed officers.

Cons

Perception and safety

Many critics argue that the introduction of more guns in order to tackle violent crime risks eroding trust between the police and the public. Tottenham MP David Lammy criticised the proposal as “an attempt to put out fire with fire”.

“Officers patrolling with weapons will only increase fear and distrust of the police in those communities on the front line of gang violence. This risks turning our streets into armed battlegrounds,” he said.

Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey, who has advised Mayor Khan, has also voiced concerns about the proposals.

“It would be seen as provocative. It will inspire fear rather than reassurance. It will hinder community confidence and do little in itself to reduce the number of violent incidents,” he told the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Khan stressed that the mayor is “crystal clear that armed officers on London’s streets must be the exception and cannot become the norm”. 

Cost

The cost of arming police in the UK would be significant, according to estimates in a paper written earlier this year by Simon Chesterman, the national lead for armed policing.

“Depending upon the level of training required, an officer would require approximately two weeks initial training to deploy with a handgun,” he said. “This would include weapons handling and retention together with some basic tactics. Officers would require approximately two days per annum refresher training and to perform qualification shoots.

“Aside from the costs associated with abstractions for training, there would be significant implications and costs associated with supporting infrastructure such as access to suitable ranges and firearms instructors. Ranges and instructors are already significantly stretched... the cost of a handgun is £500.”

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