If you opened The Telegraph or The Times on 7 February, or the Daily Mail and Independent on 8 Feb, you may have felt a fleeting sense of déjà-vu. For no apparent reason an article from last year about ‘routine’ armed police attending non firearms related incidents, has been regurgitated in the Times by journalist Fiona Hamilton and Camilla Turner in the Telegraph. They have such startling similarities; you’d hope they didn’t sit next to each other during their university exams.
Anyway we say regurgitated because if you actually know your stuff, there’s no real reason for this ‘old story’ to have popped up again in The Times/Telegraph via Fiona and Camilla, unless it’s a stock police story of course, for a slow news day, editorial direction or just lazy reporting.
This debate was initiated in Scotland last August and overseen by the SPA and it culminated in October 2014 with HMICS publishing a ‘Review of Standing Firearms Authority for Armed Response Crews within Scotland’.
As was with the Scottish legacy forces ‘Standing Authorities’ are reviewed regularly by English and Welsh forces under their FSTRA- Firearms Strategic Threat and Risk Assessments. They take into account the various threats and risks, as you’d expect from the title, plus a whole raft of operational reasons as to why it’s reasonable for police officers with car keys to a mobile armoury, to actually have their sidearm’s handy, instead of locked away in a steel box inside the aforementioned mobile armoury.
The Times and Telegraph both spookily comment on the ‘Americanisation’ of our traditional way of policing, and I’m sorry, but that’s just plain daft. In perspective there are a mere handful of armed response crews out and about on patrol in the UK, and this bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to any US policing model. The population of England and Wales is nearly 58million and we’ve got just over 3000 armed officers, of which only fraction are actually out on patrol on any given shift crewing ARV’s going to routine calls.
Last summer in Scotland where the debate began, some politicians and a newspaper took to conflating the issue that a fraction of their 275 armed officers were supporting ‘routine’ policing.
It was conflated by a frankly ridiculous line that there were ‘growing concerns’ that these were ‘ordinary’ police and were becoming routinely armed by stealth without public knowledge, consultation or consent. This shocking revelation was supported by various photos of armed officers in public, assisting unarmed colleagues with ‘routine’ policing. Thankfully this was rebutted by Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill who had astutely realised that the whole issue was a political football being capitalised upon and manipulated by some for their own ends.
A pragmatic and ‘defiant’ response by Scotland’s’ Chief Constable Steve House tried to help common sense prevail. However in a hollow victory for the detractors and hysterics the review of the ‘Standing Authority’ did indeed bring in some changes, and bizarrely enough as far as public safety is concerned the amendments are for the worse.
The review, as you might expect for common sense reasons, allowed the armed officers to actually go out on patrol instead of making them sit at the police station waiting for a call out.
However the hollowness of the victory is that although those same police officers are ‘allowed’ out they’re restricted to attending only at ‘life or death’ calls and where their firearms are required.
The reality of this is that Scotland is rather a big place, so now picture yourself awakened at 3am by the noise of intruders downstairs, pick up the phone and dial 999 – if you live in a rural area especially you’d be forgiven for feeling rather vulnerable, but don’t worry the police are on their way, unfortunately they’re about 25 miles away but will try and get there as fast as they can. Coincidentally the Armed Response Vehicle for your area, is a lot closer and double crewed in a high performance car, but unfortunately now they not allowed come to your aid because your burglary is not a life or death firearms incident – cue the slow handclap for the Scottish politicians. Anyway the next day (if you’re okay) you can write to your MSP and thank them for being concerned (on your behalf) that ‘attending routine incidents has a negative impact on community relations and safety’.
Meanwhile in England and Wales you will continue to see ARV crews at routine incidents, whether they’re first on the scene at a serious traffic collision or the first cops through the door when you’re being punched into unconsciousness by a violent partner. Armed Police attending to calls simply as police officers isn’t recorded because it’s irrelevant; it’s not a firearms deployment so it measures nothing. (It won’t show in a FOI request) In fact you’ll see it a lot more now because there are 17,000 less police officers available to go to those ‘routine calls’ and armed officers are mucking in just to help make things work, and that’s the real cause for concern in this whole silly contrived story.
Something that never seems to get mentioned in the media, is that the notice boards in Firearms Units up and down the country humbly displaying hundreds of letters of thanks and cards from victims and families – and guess what, they have absolutely nothing to do with those officers being armed. ARV crews have advanced life saving equipment and pre-hospital trauma skills which enable them to treat serious injuries and gunshot wounds, and those letters and cards are from families whose loved ones have been treated, and on many occasions saved by ARV officers. When police officers are desperately attempting resuscitation at a collapse in the high street, absolutely no one notices or even cares that that they’re wearing sidearms.
So if you’re worried about ‘Americanisation’ or anxious that at your time of need, it might be an ARV coming to your aid – get writing to the Times, Telegraph and others or your MP, oh and don’t forget next time you’re stood at the check-in desk and you see the airport police strolling through the Terminal chatting, try to control your hysteria in case you fall over in your flip flops.
The 4Policing Team have former Strategic and Tactical Firearms Commanders and Tactical Advisors on hand, so instead of making up sources, quotes or using old ones from other articles we’d be happy to assist the media with questions and our expertise.
Let us know your views by tweeting @PoliceHour We'll feature the best tweets within the article.