LibLink: Mike Crockart – Police don’t need arms for show of force

Police helmetOver at the Edinburgh Evening News, Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West and former police officer himself, Mike Crockart, has a piece on an issue on which Liberal Democrats in Scotland have been leading the debate in recent weeks.

Here’s an excerpt:

Look up Edinburgh Division on the Police Scotland website and it proudly boasts that the city was ranked recently by YouGov as “one of the top five safest cities in the UK”. In 2013-14, officers in Edinburgh only had cause to present or discharge weapons, including Tasers and baton rounds, 13 times. There are nine such incidents for this year – roughly one per month.

Undoubtedly our police officers face very real dangers, but serious incidents make up a minority of police call outs. Are we really prepared to arm our officers routinely to deal with a tiny proportion of cases? As an officer I didn’t believe that we should and as a MP I certainly don’t.

The far-stronger case is to issue non-lethal options like CS or pepper spray to frontline officers. By doing that we answer the threat they face on our behalf without destroying Peel’s fundamental principle.

Some people, including serving officers, will disagree. I respect that. But we need to have that conversation. So whatever we decide to do, whatever we accept as a society as being reasonable, it must only happen following a proper public debate and it must be proportionate to the threat officers face on our behalf.

You can read Mike’s full piece here.

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8 Comments

  • “The far-stronger case is to issue non-lethal options like CS or pepper spray to frontline officers. By doing that we answer the threat they face on our behalf without destroying Peel’s fundamental principle.”

    It’s hard to read a comment like that and not be reminded of the pathetic image of WPC Fiona Bone desperately trying to fire off her Taser while having 25 bullets fired at her. She was only able to fire it in to the pavement.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/feb/08/dale-cregan-trial-final-moments

  • @Stuart
    Yeah right. Let’s give them atom bombs just in case eh?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '14 - 10:09am

    The BBC reported earlier this month that “out of 17,318 Scottish officers, only 275 routinely carry guns while on duty – 1.6% of the total. Because they work shifts, a much smaller number will be on duty at any one time” and I have to say that as a former police firearms officer who carried at least one firearm for nine years almost every working day, I was astounded to find out just how few officers in Scotland are routinely deployed given the geographical size of force area, and the time that it would take for officers to deploy to an incident.

    People need to remember that the the incidents where there have been the greatest loss of life in the UK by the illegal use of firearms such as Dunblane and Hungerford to name but two have occurred in some of the ‘safest’ and rural parts of the country, and the police firearms deployment time has been open to question.

    Although I deplore the idea of ALL officers carrying firearms, there is a need for specialists officers to have immediate access to lethal weapons, so that they may respond to unforeseen incidents where the option of the use of lethal weaponry is necessary. I am though immensely concerned about the amount of non-lethal ‘weaponry’ that officers are carry on a daily basis, and the image that they now portray and the manner in which it is perceived that they act. Beat officers today regularly patrol in parts of the UK, with similar violent crime rates to those of rural Scotland wearing stab/bullet resistant vests, CS spray, batons and increasingly a Taser (electroshock weapon).

    At least the firearms officers, when they remain so few in number can be well trained, and subjected to regular fitness, aptitude and firearms assessments, and as a result they are arguably far better at resolving volatile situations without getting personally involved in rolling around on the pavement for they are conscious of the sidearm that they carry and the consequences of someone getting hold of it. Regular beat officers, due to their numbers alone are not as well trained in the use of their weaponry as their firearms counterparts hence viewers of ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries, and certainly the public out on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night are often afforded the sight of behaviour that I would suggest falls below that which I would call professional.

    Although I believe that firearms officers are in the main well trained, considering what role they are called upon to fulfil I do not necessarily believe that they receive enough training and whether enough is down to assess the individual suitability of officers to undertake this necessary role, but this I would suggest is the topic of another debate.

    Overall, I would say that Mike Crockart should be pleased that Police Scotland feel that they can cope with such low numbers of firearms officers, and I would suggest that he asks to attend and witness some training and perhaps even go out on patrol with officers just to see how things look from the other side. I personally think that he will be suitably pleased with what he finds. Now that I have unusually jumped to the defence of the police service, I will have to go and ponder for a bit.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • I find Mike Crockart’s piece a little confusing. One the one hand he is trying to claim that Scotland is very peaceful with the occasional “serious incident” where the police have used weapons, namely tasers and baton rounds. Yet at the same time he is trying to imply (without presenting any additional evidence) that Scotland isn’t so peaceful and that police officers are frequently (?) under personal attack and hence are in need of weapons such as CS gas and/or pepper spray.

    From my experience, I find myself in full agreement with Ruwan’s well articulated viewpiont, including his concerns about the level of non-lethal weaponry and protective gear the typical beat officer is now expected to carry.

  • A Social Liberal 14th Aug '14 - 6:14pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera said

    “firearms officers are in the main well trained . . . . ”

    I do not mean to cause offence, but I do not consider our police force that well trained in firearms. Have served nearly a decade in the armed forces I do not consider that I was particulary well trained in firearms and I spent a day on the ranges every six weeks or so (more when training for a roulement tour).

    This, actually, is one of my main arguments for not routinely arming our police officers. An infanteer will practice his trade day in, day out, in a variety of scenarios – which largely stops, amongst other things the negligent discharge of weapons. In the eventuality of the routine arming of all our police force keeping police weapons training even at the level per officer as it is now would mean a huge jump in the logistics of the police forces. The US has not managed to do this safely or adequately – what makes anyone think that the police would have the time, presence or inclination to do better?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 15th Aug '14 - 7:43am

    A Social Liberal,

    No offence taken I can assure you, and I certainly do not support the routine arming of all officers for similar reasons to yourself, although you will be pleased to hear that the specialist units within today’s police service actually train far more regulary that one day every six weeks.

    The unit that I was on for nine years would practice in one form or another every other week, but is was common to practice between formal sessions as well, as a number of the unit were qualified range officers, the same was true for fitness as well. In general, when not deployed, officers were training.

    Basic Firearms Officers would not train as often as the specialists, but they would certainly being doing some form of training every month, which I personally thought was far too little. Both specialists and other officers were pretty used to their weapons as they were deployed operationally with them 24/7. The specialists having their own personal weapons, whereas the other officers used weapons from the general armoury.

    This kind of commitment is naturally immensely costly, and frankly if every officer in the service was trained to carry, the service could never afford this amount of time for training, so I share your concern that standards would amongst the basic firearms officers drastically drop.

    The general officers who patrol 24/7 our streets and who carry an array of non-lethal weaponry do not train anywhere near as much as firearms officers, and this is obvious when you see them on the ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries where they truly become ‘actors’ in the episode in more ways than one. These officers are regularly seen to over zealously ‘get stuck in’ rather than holding back and collectively dealing with the situation in a less obviously brutal manner.

    What I am still deeply concerned about though within all police deployment of lethal and non-lethal weaponry is whether the person is psychologically fit to carry, for unlike the military with only one exception and this only involves the deployment of specialist firearms officers and for terrorism matters alone, it is the officer on the ground who ultimately decides whether they should use the weapon once they have been either formerly or they have self deployed.

    Equally worrying for many BME communities is whether officers act with any unconscious or conscious bias when they deploy. If it is true that the police service is still ‘institutionally racist’, and personally I believe that wealth of evidence that exists tends to support this, then what training have firearms officers gone through so that the service and the public can be assured that the officers are not responding to some personal or collective bias when they use lethal or for that matter even non-lethal weapons? Currently I am not aware of any such testing of officers, which for me is deeply worrying.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • Social Liberal
    Good point . When considering how well trained the Police are, one needs to consider the extent of training of the Special Forces and the sheer number of rounds they fire in practice. A Guards /SF officer told me that he considered the Guards only received the bare minimum number of rounds he considered adequate and was worried about the standards f the various Corps due to their lack of practice.

    The Police fire weapons in a built up area , where there are innocent people around . One could argue that the Police need a better level of training than the infantry and closer to that required of the SF.

    A former detective said that until the early 60s , many retired NCOs from the Guards joined the Met.City of London. This meant there were men who had been in combat in WW2 and through various conflicts and therefore were emotionally mature and managers of men :one cannot put wise heads on young shoulders. A physically tough ex Guards NCO, often with commando, para or SF experience , who has boxed in the Army , has the confidence to win a fight with someone with a knife and as consequence often has the ability to diffuse a situation verbally. A Police officer who can look at several thugs and quietly say ” Listen lads I have fought harder men then you will ever be and we all know that if somethings starts, you are the ones who going to be hurt, so lets go quietly ” can diffuse the situation verbally. Men of this calibre do not have to prove their toughness , it has been proved already . In the street, facing a 6ft plus , 13st plus, ex Guards NCO with a deep, steely and powerful voice plus a hard face can be very persuasive in making people go quietly. I would suggest that too many Police Officers over react because they lack the confidence born of proven toughness and social skills to diffuse confrontational situations. Perhaps if Police Officers had the confidence of being trained in the skills developed by W E Fairbairn of the Shanghai Police , who had to deal with the Triads on daily basis, there would be less problems.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_E._Fairbairn

    Some Police officers have reservations about the physical toughness of those entering the Police and the level of training they receive. It would be interesting to compare the level of physical toughness and training of Police Officers in the early 60s and today. Many Police officers used to maintain their physical fitness through playing rugby, cricket and boxing : does this still occur? The Police used to put out some very good rugby teams and had officers play for their country , does this still occur? Does the Police still actively recruit NCOs, especially from the Guards? Perhaps employing ex infantry /Royal Marine Commandos NCOs as fire arms officers would increase standards?

    Should there be a minimum age to be a Police Officer, say 25? The reality is that to be successful the Police Officers need to use their discretion but this requires emotional maturity which only comes with experience. If one looks at athletes, they are winning old medals up to the age of 40. The Army requires high levels of physical fitness until the age of 55. I would suggest that with correct diet and training a Police Officers career would could extend from 25 to 55 years of age. I would suggest that people with experience of security, armed forces or, construction industry with experience of playing sports and with a minimum age of 25 years, would have the mix of emotional maturity and fitness which would make better police officers. The reality is that Police Officers need the ability to endure hours of verbal abuse sand some physical abuse without over reacting: this requires self -discipline and emotional maturity which only comes with worldly experience.

    I believe in New Zealand , The Police do not carry weapons but there are locked steel boxes which hold them in their vehicles: this may be a suitable compromise.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 16th Aug '14 - 9:08pm

    Dear Colleagues,

    As I have highlighted previously the police use of firearms is totally different to that of the military, and so although military personal may well possess the basic requirements needed to be an effective police firearms officer, there is far more to the job than merely the squeezing of a trigger, and being physically fit.

    The standards required of a modern police officer to face the diversity of needs in an ver changing society requires the service to increase its current standards for recruitment and not lower them. Todays front line Constables are expected to be effective managers and be able work with and in many cases lead on matters with other public sector partners, most of whom are graduates.

    Firearms officers are expected to do this plus be 100% dependable in the most volatile of situations where they will have to make life and death decisions themselves, and then be accountable for their actions potentially in a court of law.

    The police service is currently going through a period of reform where it is finally realising that although vocational and physical skills are immensely important, intellectual and academic skills are equally needed, so the service is looking to recruit a different type of person than it historically did with ‘brains and brawn’.

    If you wish to contact me ‘off piste’ I will be more than happy to share with you the immense amount if research and evidence drawn from academia and differing services around the world that supports the professionalisation of the police by raising, and not lowering standards.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

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