Arming the Police- the debate on expanding numbers

Metropolitan police officer at Downing Street June 2005. Image: Adrian Pingstone Wiki creative commons

Metropolitan police officer at Downing Street June 2005. Image: Adrian Pingstone .Wiki Creative Commons

The chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation says rural police forces could be left ‘unarmed and vulnerable’ like ‘sitting ducks’ in the event of a terrorist attack.

The announcement has been made by John Apter at this week’s annual convention for the  Police Federation of England and Wales.

Mr Apter is also calling for more officers to be armed with tasers.

Britain currently has its lowest number of armed officers since 1987, with only 5,600 officers fully trained to carry a gun.

The announcement comes as the new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called for the training and deployment of a further 400 armed officers for the capital.

He said this was in order to tackle the threat of terrorism.

Earlier this year, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, announced an increase of 600 armed officers for London.

That decision was in direct response to the Paris terrorist attacks when 130 people were killed.

At the time he told reporters that any attack was:

  • …likely to be a spontaneous attack that requires a fast response.
  • It will be an expensive option, but is vital to keeping us safe.
  • My firearms officers are our heroes – we expect them to run towards a terrorist attack and take action to confront and stop that threat.

Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe

In 2015,  Prime Minister David Cameron assigned £143m over five years to increase the country’s armed capability.

But Chairman of the Police Federation, Steve White, released the results of a survey of 17,000 police officers on Monday, showing only a fifth were willing to train as armed officers.


We are struggling to fill the vacancies we have currently got because of the lack of understanding and protection that officers would have if they have to discharge their firearm.

That’s what this survey says – we do fear violence, but officers don’t want to carry firearms because they are concerned that if they discharge it, they are going to get arrested for murder.

But  it is all connected with how officers are feeling – they are feeling vulnerable, they are feeling under threat. And if they are feeling like that ordinarily, why would they take the extra step to volunteer to carry guns? It is just more pressure, it is just more potential criticism.

The Government has got to provide a message to the service, not that it has a get out of jail free card, but that officers will be supported appropriately and fairly in order to encourage officers to step forward and take on additional responsibility.

Steve White, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, as quoted by the Press Association (PA)

Responding to the survey for the government, police minister Mike Penning said:

It is vitally important that the police and intelligence agencies have the resources and kit they need to respond to the evolving threats we face. Following the terrorist attacks in France last year, we have announced an additional £143 million over the next five years to provide a national uplift in armed policing capability.

We ask our firearms officers to do a vital and uniquely challenging job on behalf of the public – to put themselves in harm’s way, in situations where they may have to decide in a split second whether to shoot and, in certain circumstances, to take the life of a person who poses a threat to others.

We will always ensure firearms officers are supported to take the difficult decisions necessary to protect the public, and that is why, earlier this year, the Home Secretary commissioned a review of the legal and procedural framework governing police use of firearms and post-incident investigation, which is ongoing.

However, there cannot be any question of police officers being exempt from the normal requirement of the law that any use of force must be proportionate, justified and reasonable.

-Police minister Mike Penning.

In this report, LMMNews investigates the issues surrounding the arming of the police, and talks to a recently retired Metropolitan police officer, to gauge the feeling within the force.


This feature originally appeared on the LMMNews News Review on May 17th 2016.

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