While carrying out my research for my forthcoming novel “A Gangster’s Grip” it has led me to think about the role of the police in bringing violent crime under control in Manchester. Although a multi-agency approach is responsible for the reduction in this type of crime, armed response teams played their part. Not only have armed response teams been used for raids on properties associated with gang members, but their stop and search approach also reduced the number of arms being carried into the city centre.
This prompts the perennial question: should UK police be armed?
As a nation we are unusual in our decision not to routinely arm the police and there have been many calls to arm our officers. However, in a 2012 news report the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, defended the decision not to arm the police, arguing that arming police would not mean that officers wouldn’t get shot. His statement was made following the fatal shootings of two WPCs in Greater Manchester.
Although public opinion is divided regarding whether the police should be armed, figures show that the majority of the police themselves are not in favour. According to a survey in 2006, 82% of Police Federation members were against being routinely armed on duty. In contrast, an ICM poll of the public in 2004 showed 47% in support of arming all police and 48% against. Additionally, a 2007 poll of 2,156 adults by Policy Exchange, the centre-right think tank, showed that 72% of those polled wanted more armed police patrols.
My personal view is that I would not like to see the police routinely armed, but that armed response teams should be used when circumstances demand. It’s a tricky one though, because it’s not always possible to predict when a PC’s life is about to be put at risk.
With regard to armed police, I can remember a security alert a few years ago just before going on holiday. We arrived at Manchester airport to find hordes of armed police patrolling the terminal building. It was the first time I had seen armed police in Manchester, and I remember feeling unsettled. We had the children with us who were only toddlers at the time, which I think added to my unease.
On another occasion, I had been out for a meal in Manchester with my husband and we were waiting in the queue for a taxi home. A man dashed into the road and, for no apparent reason, decided to launch himself, yelling and screaming, at any vehicle that looked remotely like a taxi. We were concerned that he would seriously injure himself but worried about going to his aid because his behaviour was so volatile.
Everybody in the taxi queue stood open-mouthed wondering how to react. It’s a difficult position to be in because you want to help but, at the same time, you have to consider your own safety. Fortunately, within a couple of minutes the police had picked him up on CCTV and the armed response team were quick to act. In that instance I was glad to see them.
What are your views on arming the police? Are you for or against, or do you think, like me, that armed response teams should just be used for specific circumstances?