How we are putting unarmed cops at risk
Over the past few days I’ve enjoyed some great twitter exchanges with folk about routine arming of officers and of late, specifically the use of unarmed officers to deal with edged weapon threats.
I was saddened, but not surprised to learn in a twitter poll I published that 88% of the 450 odd officers that had voted had been required to arrest an offender when it was known they were in possession of edged weapons. Some may have no issue with this, I very much do (having done it a number of times myself).
I have conveyed my views piecemeal over 147 characters but today want to lay out clearly why I feel as I do. So best start with my premise and work from there:
Armed officers should attend any call where there is an edged weapon suspected to ensure the safety of officers attending.
Let me outline my rationale for this as succinctly as I can:
- Edged weapons pose a lethal threat to officers.
- There is presently no authorised tactic for an unarmed officer to arrest an offender armed with an edged weapon.
- Unarmed officers are not equipped with any option to stand off outside the reactionary arc of an armed offender yet retain control of the situation, whether the edged weapon threat is active or passive at the time of officer contact.
I don’t think the above rationale is particularly controversial but very happy to be challenged on it. Yet despite the above we consistently send officers to these calls.
How did we get to a situation so at odds with the rest of the Western world when it comes to dealing with edged weapons as a threat? And let’s be clear, we are definitely swimming against the officer safety tide on this one in my experience.
If you only have a hammer every problem looks like a nail….
When you only have officers armed with spray and baton then who else are you going to send to edged weapon calls? The paucity of armed coverage across the wider UK is well documented. Added to this we have allowed the armed policing debate to revolve around a firearm threat, completely ignoring that arguably the greater threat to officers comes from edged weapons.
Dangerously, we are now allowing public opinion to form that issuing Taser alone to officers would be a solution to edged weapon threats. This needs to be challenged. Taser is certainly an option to attempt to resolve an edged weapon incident (as are excellent public order tactics when time / circumstances allow) but if it fails it must be supported by firearms, less the officers involved are exposed to a lethal threat.
Additionally, despite having the best trained armed officers available to deploy to these incidents (UK training for AFO / ARV exceeds the bulk of international routinely armed training), we trust them the least to deploy and actually do their job. This mystifies me. We are highly reluctant to send armed officers to calls initially, preferring to send unarmed officers to ‘confirm’ the presence of weapons.
In employing this model we are saying that risking an unarmed officer is more acceptable than having a highly trained armed officer, equipped to deal from the outset, attend and get the job done, or stand down immediately on assuring it is safe to do so. To my mind there can be no justification for this.
I am always cognisant that when the control room asks me to acknowledge a ‘Stay Safe’ message it shouldn’t be an unarmed officer call.
What to do?
You’ll probably not be surprised to know I am a supporter of routine arming (I will cover my thoughts on this in a following blog).
But for now perhaps its time to rapidly revise our views on this and provide specific guidance for our control rooms and Tactical Firearms Commanders that changes our deployment model. We should ensure that the safety of officers and members of the public come before concerns about the potential outcome or image of sending firearms officers to edged weapons calls. Armed officers should be the default resource considered to attend edged weapon incidents.
I trust our exceptional AFOs to make the right decisions on arrival knowing they will keep my officers and I safe at these calls, standing down when suitable and allowing us to get on with the job.
Who knows? Perhaps UK policing is right on this and the rest of the Western world wrong when it comes to edged weapon threat? From my experience both before this job and now within it, we are sitting on the wrong side of the ledger.