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Panorama Sunday, 9 December, 2001, 21:12 GMT
Your comments on Lethal Force
Your Comments on Lethal Force

Have your say

Your comments will be posted up until Wednesday.

I am behind the police armed response units 100%. Accidents do happen yes, but a lot more crime would happen if they didn't exist. I am proud that our "beat bobbies" are not armed; it shows that we have a true democracy. The ARU's are there to offer the police and the public good solid backup, and excellent protection/deterrent.
Simon Steele

I was worried after seeing the story of the man with the sawn-off shotgun that turned out to be a table leg. From the report it seemed he was given ONE warning and then shot. What if the person you are giving the warning to is hard of hearing and has to turn to see the speaker?? It is likely that the person would be shot!

Clearly there are some situations, for example armed robberies in progress, in which the methods used by the police today may often be appropriate. However, there are a significant numbers of cases where tragedies have occurred because impatience, immaturity and a desire to bring things to a conclusion quickly have created premature crises where officers have believed that they are at risk. A more considered approach would have avoided the officers being at risk and feeling the need to take members of the public they serve out.

Less lethal weapons on their own are not a solution. Retraining officers to be less confrontational must also take place at the same time.

Is it unfair to say that if you aim at the largest body mass, and you shoot someone in the chest there is a very high percentage that you will kill them? Why can't a Police Marksmen shoot someone in the leg, or arm instead of the chest? If you take a round in the arm or leg, you will go down, drop the weapon, then the arrest can be made without killing anyone.

The British Forces are told to shoot the biggest body mass, because they only open fire in war and on active terrorists who are endangering their lives.

It is claimed there is NO shoot to kill policy, but if you are shooting someone in the chest, and killing them, then that means there is. In the Forces we were told, "There is no shoot to kill policy, but a dead man cannot shoot back, so take that as you will", And if you speak to right people they will tell you there is a shoot to kill policy but it will NEVER be admitted to the public.

I watched the Panorama program last night and found it extremely biased. I found that the police were not given the opportunity to defend themselves. I have faced similar situations as a soldier in Northern Ireland. In one incident a 12-year old boy was pointing a handgun at me. I know what it is like to decide in a split second whether to fire or not. It is a tribute to our police and their training that only a few people have been shot.
Pete Williams

Regarding the incident with the man and the sword put yourself in the police officer's position.

Do you:
a) Allow the mother to stay and negotiate, only to find the son attacking her (mentally ill people can and do hurt the ones they love most)
b) Allow the man to run into public areas where he attacks and kills innocent members of the public
c) Try and contain him using verbal negotiation, CS spray etc and when these all fail, be forced to resort to potentially lethal force in order to stop the man killing or injuring others. Not an easy decision is it? (Without the benefit of hindsight).

I say thank you to our police officers for daily putting your lives on the line to allow us to live in a safer society.

My father is a police officer and I do really fear for his life when he goes on duty. If he comes across a potential criminal armed with a knife or even a firearm in a one on one situation, a baton and CS spray are absolutely useless. This has happened on several occasions with brave police officers losing their lives in the line of fire.

With violence on the increase, the police are being outgunned. I do think it is about time that all police officers should be armed. More liberal countries like Denmark, Germany and even Sweden have armed officers so why can't we follow suit?

Why is it that the Police only ever seem to shoot harmless eccentrics and drunks, and unarmed people asleep in bed? From the news reports about the gun crime related to drug turf wars and the spread of gang culture I would have thought that there were others far more deserving of being shot than these.
Richard Clarke

From what I see on TV documentaries and so on, there seems to be too great a readiness to put armed officers face-to-face with suspected armed offenders. If an armed officer is in immediate fear of their life, they will be likely to shoot at the suspect, however they are trained. This is when you get people shot carrying replica guns, table legs, or nothing.

Why is there not more attention paid to keeping officers and the public behind bullet-proof cover so that they have time to gather information, make considered decisions, communicate with the suspects, and generally deal with the situation like officers of the law rather than scared people with guns?
Ian Williamson

I am an American and retired Army officer. Our own police forces have increasingly become paramilitary in both dress and doctrine. All too often, they get the wrong address for a "drug bust" and end up shooting innocent people. Unless there are hostages involved or a credible risk that the perpetrators have a bomb or similar weapon of mass destruction, there is no excuse for such "Rambo" tactics.

Whenever possible, "siege" should be laid against crack houses and similar criminal residences. You can flush only so many drugs down the toilet. I don't like drugs or drug dealers, but we've seen a lot of civil freedoms eroded in the "war against drugs." Now, terrorism has complicated the equation. But we should have been focusing more on terrorist networks all along than on small-time drug dealers. All of the drug dealers' victims are willing ones--unlike the innocents taken out by terrorist attacks.
Jim Reese
Jonesboro, GA USA

How long before public places like the tube and the railways have machines to test for passengers carrying offensive weapons?
Malcolm Flanagan
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Much ado is made about guns and lethal force, when this is a minor problem in the UK. With much talk about going easy on minor crimes, particularly drugs, have the British Police authorities studied how the Mayor of New York reduced crime by over 30% in six years in New York? It was by cracking down hard on minor crimes and showing would be criminals that there was no tolerance for any type of crime.

Many towns and now rural vilages are unsafe after dark in the UK. Surely the Police service and juducial authorities should be doing far more to deal with this problem. Also, with alcohol playing such a big role in these street crimes, should the drinking age be put up to 21 in the UK?
Charles Garr
Tampa - USA

Re the Scotsman in London who was carrying the coffee table leg. Are we really to believe that some southern type person really believed that this man having a quiet drink on his own was really and Irish Terrorist standing at the bar with a sawn off shotgun in a plastic carrier bag?

Firstly the ignorance of regional accents by people in the south of the country is astounding to say the least, but to assume that a potential terrorist was using a sawn off proves they had watched too many episodes of the Sweeney (Know wot I mean Guv.)

The real bad guys use 9mm handguns easy to conceal H&k 9mm MP5, or historically an AK 47 Kalashnikov. Next thing we know Starsky and Hutch pitch up and challenge him (we are told). The poor guy is bemused as he's carrying a piece of his coffee table so doesn't know what to think and the boys in blue double tap him centre mass. Get a grip Met sort your tactics out or every furniture restorer in the country will have to work nights.
David Mc Millan

The law says that in certain circumstances it is lawful to take someone's life to defend yourself or another. That's the long and short of it. Police Officers will be prosecuted if it is shown that the force they used was unlawful. To say that 'No Police Officer has ever been prosecuted after shooting someone' shows not that we are above the law, but that we are working WITHIN it. On each occasion where we do open fire, it has shown to be justified. This clearly demonstrates that police firearms' training is sound, and officers know when they can and can't open fire.

Press reports do not contain the whole story, they cannot for legal reasons, and as such public debate becomes one-sided, as you can only go on what you are told. To say that, for example, Harry Stanley was killed by mistake is wrong. I know that there is more to that situation than the public know, but I am not permitted to say what it is. If the public knew the entire facts, they would probably agree.

It seems that people at large will jump on whatever argumentative bandwagon is the trendiest at the time. I'm sure that many of the above comments slating the police have come from the same people who supported Tony Martin when he was (rightly) convicted for shooting the burglar. You can't have it both ways!

Having defended my profession, I can say that there is a need for more options in certain circumstances, but when faced with a gun, I am happy to respond with a gun.
D Smith

Police firearms teams always make a big thing about how professional and highly trained they are. From what I have seen of some of their procedures and tactics. They may be well trained as target shooters - comfortable on the range - but as "street operators" they are barely competent.
Jim Greenhaugh

Why do police officers carry their guns with the barrel pointing in the air? I believe that's a serious safety issue. I always get worried when I see officers at Heathrow Airport carrying guns that way. They could accidentally shoot someone's head off. I was always taught to have the barrel point towards the ground not in the air.
George Bain

In the largest analysis of firearms ownership yet undertaken, Professor John Lott showed that in those areas of the US which re-legalised they carrying of concealed guns for law-abiding citizens, the incidence of violent crime decreased when compared to areas where firearms remained illegal. Couldn't we re-legalise gun ownership in the UK and benefit from a similar reduction in violent crime?
Mike Holmes

I would not like to see an increase in the numbers of armed police on the streets. I feel that it creates and is creating, a society which is comfortable with weapons and their use. This can only lead to an increase in gun crime and consequently murder. However I do agree that there are some occasions where the police have no choice but to shoot someone.

I also understand that the reason it is sometimes required is that the individual is posing an immediate threat to others and the only way to be sure of stopping them is to 'shoot to kill'. If there were another option I would prefer it. It would send a signal to society that guns and violence are not the solution to problems and disagreements.

Unfortunately the alternative (less than lethal) devices have caused a number of deaths of peaceful people in the states. (Through an allergic reaction to pepper spray.) Because the weapons are less than lethal, the police are much more willing to use them. This sends a signal that violence and not negotiation and patience is the solution.

Why do they need guns, can't they just use bullet proof vests and have sticks?

The point best made on the program was by an American policeman who said that the British had simply stopped developing non-lethal weapon options. We pioneered the baton round and in typical fashion sat on our laurels until it was too late and now our pride prevents us from taking a leaf out of the US police book by using the same non lethal weapons that they are deploying successfully.
Adam Fawsitt

The Police force is there to protect the public. They are not social workers. In the society today it is required to have armed police. When it comes to snap decisions, delays in shooting someone can mean life or death for the police officer and the public generally.

We need an armed police force that is not afraid to pull the trigger. Police are human and mistakes will be made. attempting to eliminate these mistakes is impossible. Stop the blame culture in our police service and let the armed police officer get on with the job.

From what has been reported in cases where mistakes have been made, some people have invariably been involved in some sort of criminal activity. These people know the risks and shouldn't complain when events take a turn for the worst an they get shot.
Derek Coleman

After watching your programme, and a comment made by the commander I think he was. He said that a bean bag bullet could be just as lethal as bullet, so that's his reason for not using them, surely it is better to have something that may NOT kill someone than DEFINITELY will. It appears to me that they are NOT protecting the people. Then he also said that in the USA they killed loads of people before putting into action new methods. Does this mean that the UK will not think about it until 100's of innocent people are killed? I think its about time this country actually did what THE PEOPLE of this country want.
Gary Ward

What choice do our Police have? We fail to give them the tools to do the job and then complain when they don't do what we want. No wonder recruitment is down and resignations are up. Lets be more supportive and constructive. Your reporter looking all concerned (not) with much sad head shaking made no useful contribution to the problem.
Richard Curthoys
St Albans

I am a former London Police Officer (1970-1974) and an armed officer at 10 Downing Street and many other political/royal establishments. When I look back at the shameful training I was given, I just praise the Lord that I never had to use my firearm in a 'real' situation.
Geoff Furlong

At the beginning of the programme we saw how the police are trained in confronting armed persons. In a situation like that, the police only have a split second to decide if their life is in danger. Mistakes are going to be made, and I obviously can only sympathise with the victim's families. There is no reason for anyone to walk the streets armed in any way. If any one is confronted by an armed officer, then any instructions given by the officer, must be obeyed. If so, then I am fully confident that the person will not be shot. The police cannot afford to take chances. With a wrong decision made, they could well pay with their life.
Steve Fuller
Brighton & Hove

Until very recently I was an Authorised Firearms Officer in my Constabulary. I watched your programme with interest yet feel the police use of firearms was dealt with in a very isolated way. The protection of the public and the officers who serve them have to be considered as a whole, not just in context to one or two high profile incidents. Officers cannot be expected to face life threatening situations day in and day out, the majority of which are never publicised, unless the police service, the government and the public who they answer to, provide sensible guidelines and policy, backed up by the resources needed to implement them.
Stephen White

Until a successful prosecution is brought against the police for murder or manslaughter, be it throught use of a firearm or other suspect deaths in custody, they have no reason to change as there are never any negative consequences. Effectively they are free to kill without fear of redress.
Ian Mac

With regards the comment made by Anthony Scrivener QC on tonight's programme that "police officers have only one option to shot to kill" - this is incorrect. I am an authorised firearms officer in the Metropolitan Police and we are taught to "shoot to stop" and this is achieved by shooting at the largest part of the body mass. This comment would appear to give the wrong impression to your viewers.
P De-Laurey

I feel sorry to say this but it seems as if the police have the attidude that they are "doing us all a favour" by terminating these unfortunate people - less than lethal force should always be their first choice!
Mr G Moore

That was the most ridiculous, sensationalist and uninformed programme I have ever seen. Police risk getting their lives when they attend these incidents. Has the presenter ever seen someone shot? It's not pretty.

Watching this made me ashamed to be British. Surely we can do better than this and take a leaf out of the book of the Baltimore Police

Having seen your programme on Sunday night I feel that the British police have an arrogant attitude. The Americans may have a situation where they have more deaths through the use of guns but they have come up with alternatives which do work. Of course there will always be situations where lethal force is the only answer, these should be the exception not the norm. The British Police should adopt the American alternatives not make excuses. One live saved is better than none at all.
Chris Watson

I feel these police should be held accountable so that the innocent people should not have died in vain.The police must remember that their wages are being paid by these same people and should be accountable to them as public servants and not their masters!!!
Pran Nath Mehta

I object strongly to the totally subjective nature of your documentary. You have selected a particular position and chosen certain individual cases which help you to 'prove' your position. I find this type of so-called journalism disgraceful. You will find, that any member of the armed police and armed forces in this country is trained to aim for the largest part of the body exposed. There is not, and never has been *any* so-called shoot-to-kill policy.
Professional person

That was the most one sided, biased television programme i have ever seen. It ended with a total lie : "Police officers are trained to shoot to kill" which is absolute nonsense and now everyone that saw the programme will believe it. What about a programme showing what it is like to be a Police Officer involved in Firearms operations?

Having just watched the programme, my only problem with lethal force is that there is no redress to police when they get it wrong (as they frequently do). It seems to me that they can shoot whoever they like and just hold up their hands and say "I thought he had a gun, etc" and that's the end of it, which is totally wrong. If a police officer kills someone "by mistake" then that person should be kicked off the force and not be allowed in charge of a weapon ever again. Police are supposed to protect not kill.
London, UK

It is clear that less than lethal options exist to deal with potentially serious incidents. It would appear that senior police officers or the government are not learning the lessions learned elsewhere, including the US. Bean bag rounds, tazers and other options have been shown to work. How many more people have to die needlessly before action is taken to give British Police officers the option of less than lethal force and the training on how and when it can be used to save lives?
Simon Zerafa

An interesting programme. I am already aware of many of the pieces of equipment used in the USA. I have one question. Why did your programme not look at Northern Ireland? The PSNI is the only routinely armed force in the UK and has previous experience of the use of non lethal force in the form of baton rounds. I am well aware of the political sensitivities but I would point out that in my own constituency a man was shot dead by police after attacking two officers with a wrench during a domestic disturbance. I just wonder why you choose not to use such an example or even to look at the consequence of routine arming in NI and what may be the consequence of such a move in the mainland UK in the future if non lethal force solutons are not embraced speedily.
Duncan Shipley Dalton

I am afraid that the Police Representative did more damage to their reputation than any other element of the program - It was like watching a Politician regurgitate the official party story and just as tarnishing - have they nothing more to say than "I am the law"?
Mike Kenny

As a sporting shooter with a military background, I find it unacceptable that these things go on without accountability of the police. It is becoming more common that the police are carrying firearms and are prepared to use them. This after a handgun ban designed to keep guns off the streets. It appears that it was not necessary and maybe we should have banned chair legs instead. I think it feasible that the stirring up of "gun culture" by the media may have been a facilitator of the paranoia that seems to be evident in this country. There was not a gun culture until the handgun ban, but there definitely is one now.
D Kavanagh

The killing has to stop. If the police are not seen to be accountable for their mistakes it is like giving them a license to kill.
Louise Oldfield
Hackney, Llondon

Police who kill should be named. There should be no anonymity and there should be private prosecutions against police who kill innocent people.

I am sick and tired of people in this country and programmes like this in particular coming out against our police force. Too much is made of the rights of those people who decide to live beyond the law and make decent people's lives a misery. If you live within the law and have some respect for other people then you will not fall foul of the police. If you cannot control yourselves and you live without a care for others then you will have to face the consequences.

No policeman or woman has EVER been prosecuted over a shooting or death in custody. They administer the law yet are not subject to it.
Karuna Metta

I cannot believe we are looking to the Americans when it comes to lethal force. They not only kill more frequently, they kill the wrong people more frequently, MUCH more frequently. I thought the report was lopsided, sloppy and conducted like a witch-hunt, not trying to find the truth, but desperately trying to lynch someone, anyone.
James MacWhinney

Surely it would be a useful alternative to say "Shoot him/her in the leg". The expected reply might be "We can't be that accurate" but I suggest that the suspect might either shoot back - then the police may shoot to kill, or (especially if innocent) the person will appreciate the seriousness of the situation and surrender.

As was said by a contributor to the programme: "police deserve other options than to shoot people dead". More important the public (even criminals) deserve other options than to be shot dead. Police officers should NOT shoot to kill (or "stop" as was euphemistically stated) and beanbag projectiles should be in use, though use of non-lethal weapons will increase the risk of trigger happy police responses. Also people armed with knives, poles, bars, etc should NEVER be shot if other people are not close to them.

I don't carry a firearm nor would I want too. If we (The Police) were all routinely armed, then it'd be goodbye and thanks. Its a hard enough job as it is! But when push comes to shove, and you're confronted with a deadly weapon, I would like to think we have the capacity to cope! It's not that long ago I had a small piece of wood, against a rather sharp knife, being wielded before me. Not that it was meant for me, but a member of the public. But when a Police officer arrives at a scene we become the target! There is no telling what we may encounter. Less than deadly measures are all well and good, but police officers nowadays are not ten a penny and, unless you're in the Met, you can be 20 minutes from any real type of back-up. It's a bit like paperwork -it's a necessary evil. I don't agree with it, all I'm saying is, it's out there and we (police & society) have to deal with what's dished up!
Dave Anderson

Why do the police use close quarter weapons like carbines and handguns in a questionable calibre? Why not use officers in heavy ballistic armour and baton rounds at negotiating range covered by rifle equipped marksmen assessing risk at a distance? Believe me when I say a round of .308 Win will blow the legs/arms off anyone if lethal force needs to be used. As an innocent victim of shambolic police firearms deployment, I know police tactics are placing officers and public at risk. The police will continue to kill innocent people with current tactics and poor risk assessment.
John Smith

I am a serving Police Officer. The programme omitted certain facts in both examples, giving the impression that the Police shot without justification. I would like to ask you - Would you rather an armed person to walk around the streets with the potential to kill a member of public? In both cases the public were at potential danger and the decision was made to end the threat. How would the media react if Police 'allowed' an armed person to kill an innocent member of the public? I am in favour of non-lethal weapons but how will the media present the first case that a person is killed with a beanbag gun or stun gun? I notice that the programme didn┐t mention how many people were killed in Baltimore by Police since the introduction of non-lethal weapons. The Police are often in a no win - no win situation. It┐s about time that the media promotes the good work the Police do and stop scare mongering the public.

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