Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Arming the Police

There are calls for arming the police in the wake of Islamist terrorism; as always, there are two sides to the argument.

Would arming the police prevent an attack - highly unlikely given the terrorists are prepared to die. Would armed police prevent high numbers of of murders during an attack - possibly, even probably, if they were on site immediately, and that's only really possible in cities.

However, once police are armed as standard, what's to prevent a bunch of terrorists dressing as police and entering a venue with guns unchallenged? Once we become used to police carrying guns, we would not question people dressed as police carrying guns. That's a high risk.

Will arming the police lead to trigger-happy police? It's a risk and there are countless stories from the USA of trigger-happy cops making mistakes, although we don't seem to hear as many stories (if any) from the continent, where many police carry guns.

Do the number of attacks warrant arming the police? Probably not - despite recent attacks you're still far more likely to die of an obesity related disease than die in a terrorist attack.

The jury is out, but let's not be hasty and turn to a sledge-hammer solution in an attempt to solve an issue which still has a very low chance of happening, despite the perceived risk being understandably high among the public. Decisions made in haste usually come back to bite you in the bum. I remain to be convinced, and so too are many withing the police service.

Surely it's better to put more resources into intelligence led efforts to prevent attacks happening in the first place (for example, not ignoring warning calls from the public)? I do, however, believe the decision on arming bobbies should be left to the experts and not politicians bowing to popular pressure.

There's a lot of hoo-haa about Jeremy Corbyn's U-turn on shoot-to-kill following the recent attacks. No, he hasn't changed his mind on shoot-to-kill, because the action of the police in those cases was not shoot-to-kill. Shoot-to-kill is not taking out terrorists during an attack, it's taking them out on the mere suspicion they are going to conduct an attack. The shoot-to-kill policy was developed during The Troubles - they are extrajudicial killings. I don't believe he's changed his mind on that, which cost the UK government dearly at the ECHR (which is not a part of the EU, as Brexiteers seem to believe). It's arbitrary law, and that's a dangerous precedent within a western democracy.

As for the police numbers argument - and the public focus here is not counter terrorism, where funding has actually gone up, but visible, crime policing - numbers were cut due to falling crime rates, which, when you think about it, is a perfectly rational reaction to save money, can't really blame the Conservatives for that and the accusations doing the rounds smell more than a little of political opportunism. Would higher police numbers have prevented the attacks? There is a role for community police in gathering intelligence from the streets (but no more effective than the anti-terrorism hotline), but even if there was a police presence on every street corner, those perpetrating the attacks would still have gone ahead. Can't decide on this one, but there's always the question of public perception.

The main problem is that, in a western democracy, you can't lock up people for thought crime unless you want to enter a dark, Orwellian world. Some freedoms come with a price, a price we have to pay if we're not going to sleep-walk into a totalitarian, police state future - the very thing anti-terrorism fights.

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