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Monday, 20 January, 2003, 09:23 GMT
Should the police be armed?
Father-of-three Stephen Oake, 40, was stabbed to death and three other officers were injured as police searched three men in a flat in Manchester.
The raid early on Tuesday evening was linked to the discovery of the deadly poison ricin in London last week.
Police say Mr Oake had not been wearing a vest because he was meant to be gathering information.
The tactical officers who had carried out the actual arrests were wearing protective gear, although none was armed.
Chief constable Michael Todd told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there had been no "perceived risk" to any of the officers.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said "It is an appalling tragedy and wicked in the extreme."
Do you think police should be armed at all times? Should police now wear protective clothing at all times?
This Talking Point was suggested by Steve, UK: "In light of recent events, is it time that police were now made to wear protective clothing at ALL times." If you have any suggestions for Talking Points,
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I'm all in favour of arming the police, but I dread to think of the consequences if they actually ever dare to use them. The criminal or his family will doubtless sue the police for millions in compensation (to be paid for by taxpayers) and there will be endless government inquiries and hand-wringing about police brutality. Before we introduce armed police, we need to get rid of the notion of rights for criminals. If you don't play by society's rules, you shouldn't expect society's protection.
Andrew, British in the Netherlands
On the purely practical level, the impact on police rostering would be disastrous. Having to take most officers off duty for a few weeks of training would mean a major manpower shortage on the streets. While every police casualty is a tragedy we actually have far fewer police deaths than in equivalent countries where they are always armed.
Why is everyone obsessed with comparing the possibility of arming our police with the situation in the US? Surely we should be looking to Europe where the police are routinely armed, and there doesn't seem to be any arms race raging between police and criminals. Having said that, I'm not sure I'd trust most of our police force with a gun, any more than I'd trust a criminal.
C Wright, UK
At a time when those with the vocation to defend the public can no longer defend themselves, how can we the public have any confidence in the police. Police should have weapons, and be able to make a decision to shoot the criminal without the fear of being persecuted if they feel that the public are at risk. We now seem to live in an age where the criminal has more rights than those who are law abiding. This will open paths for vigilantes to protect their own, it is our fundamental right and responsibility to protect ourselves and our families.
I think the proposition of arming the police after this incident is wrong, as the issue is surely one of should the officers have been wearing body protection? The other issue is that at least one of these men had been previously refused asylum - how come he was back in the community? There is definitely the perception that we have a failing judicial system and the police are banging their proverbial heads against the system.
Arming our police isn't going to turn our country into America. The majority of European countries' police are armed, as are Australian police.
Robert Upshall, UK
Some police (armed response units) already have guns, so it is not a question of the police not having guns at their disposal. As for those who say gun crime is out of control - wake up. Two unfortunate incidents may be two too many, but they do not make it into an epidemic.
Besides, how many people in the UK outside of NI have ever seen guns on the streets except with the (very rare) sight of armed police?
The issue seems to be one of handcuffing suspects. In the US, all suspects are handcuffed at all times. Speaking to a senior policeman, he told me that as the European Convention on Human Rights bans degrading behaviour, some police forces have interpreted this as only handcuff when necessary. This unfortunate and tragic result would appear to be the inevitable consequence. Is this another example of the rights of suspects overtaking the need for protecting society?
Listen to the coppers, folks. The majority of Police in Scotland don't want guns and I personally feel safer with the streets patrolled by unarmed cops far more than when I lived in the States with armed police, why? Because the fact that the police didn't need firearms says something about how safe the community is.
I have particularly strong feelings about this as my father is a policemen and has been for the last 25 years. During his career, he has had his cheekbone and nose broken, being bitten and suffered numerous attacks. Surely, those criminals who chose to assault my father would have thought twice about their actions if faced with an officer armed with a gun, rather than an old fashioned truncheon.
barry b, UK
I can't believe we are still having this debate. The American model has shown the greater armaments your give to the police, the greater the criminal elements arm themselves - and that's official. The status quo offers the best, though not perfect, solution available. Lets be perfectly honest about this, how many people including the police are killed per year due to the police (not) having guns? Now would that number rise or fall if you armed them further?
People keep saying we must not arm our Police, that if we do so, we will have crime rates akin to that of America. Well, the Americans gun crime rates are in decline and ours (in the UK) are increasing. I think the notion that more guns = more gun crime is a very simplistic one and that a more balanced look at the problem is required.
Being a former police officer in the US, I can say that had the officer been armed he would not have lost his life, plan and simple. US police routinely encounter suspects armed with knives, and as the old saying goes "don't take a knife to a gun fight"....the suspect who killed the officer would have either given up, or been shot by police. Either way the decision would have been the suspects... most give up. The fundamental job of a police officer is to protect life and enforce the law. In order to protect life, life may have to be taken.
I'm very sorry to have to say this, but in too many cases police officers and criminals are simply different sides of the same coin, and I personally would take a lot of convincing that every officer could be trusted with a gun. Perhaps at least one highly trained armed officer should have been present at the incident in Manchester, but certainly not all of them. As someone has already pointed out, the police ARE armed when the threat is obvious.
I find the observation by Steve UK, that criminals are sides of the same coin at a time when a police officer has lost is life entirely repugnant. He prefaces his comment by saying he his sorry to make the comment, perhaps better that he kept his counsel. I am not sure from where he draws the analogy but clearly he has an axe to grind. As a retired police officer I have many times come across the Steves of this world. they are invariably the first to call the police when they have a problem!
The police are already armed in this country. How is it that when an officer is killed in the course of his/her duty people immediately think all police should adopt Judge Dread mode? This sad incident only goes to show that the DEPLOYMENT of arms was not agreed by senior officers. That was an error of judgement. To have police routinely armed however would not be good for society at large.
Can somebody please explain to me how arming the police has got anything to do with this incident? Maybe if the police had hand-cuffed the suspect, or had worn their IPE then we wouldn't be debating this now.
Only people who no intention of taking responsibility for their own safety, or the safety of those who are sworn to enforce the law, could afford the dream of unarmed police in the UK. Even if you personally do not honour the criminal threat, at least you could have the sense to allow the police the means to protect others.
As a member of the South African Police Service (SAPS), I am used to always working with at least one other member, and always having a bullet proof vest plus a 9mmp handgun, plus an R5 assault rifle or shotgun per car. I am totally amazed at the UK's reasoning that an armed police will force the criminals to be armed. Is it not better to be prepared for any eventuality?
Police officers in the United Kingdom should be armed with firearms. The time of the unarmed bobby is over and every precaution should be taken for their safety. These men and women in uniform deserve the right to defend themselves with the force they deem necessary to defend their lives.
Once all the police are armed, it is more likely that anyone involved in criminal activity will want to arm themselves as 'protection' against the police. No criminal is going to think "Well, now the police are armed, I'd better give up my life of crime". They are more likely to rise to the challenge. Once the decision is taken to arm all police, there is no going back and I do not want to live in a city where there are more guns - whoever has them.
I'm amazed that so many of you believe that if you keep the police friendly and non threatening then the criminals will be friendly and non threatening. A quote from Kelly: "Once all the police are armed, it is more likely that anyone involved in criminal activity will want to arm themselves as 'protection' against the police." Well, we sure wouldn't want to make the criminals mad, now would we?
We mustn't go along the route of "tooling up" the police to protect against and respond to any situation, however remote. Because you can be sure that the criminal fraternity will respond likewise, and the remote possibility will become a commonplace.
Some officers would like to be armed. Most would not. Let's listen to the people who actually do the job.
Steven Hill, UK
I think the issue is why the officer wasn't wearing his jacket. A gun would probably not have stopped him from being stabbed. Guns cannot be used for protection, they are for killing people, so I don't think they would make our police any safer. I think the regular police shouldn't have to deal with terrorist threats. Special anti-terrorism units already exist and these would be better equipped to deal with armed and violent terrorists.
I do not think the police should arm themselves with guns. They should however always wear stab vests if working outside of an office regardless of the circumstances. They already have pepper-spray and batons. They also have armed response units specifically for dealing with incidents that require the possible use of deadly force.
All the police here in Spain are armed and there does not seem to be many guns on the street, so the argument that if the police are armed more criminals will arm themselves, does not seem to ring true. However, most of the criminals in Spain are in company boardrooms or parliament and I have no idea what kind of weaponry they carry there.
I think some police should be armed - but not all. Surely police arresting terror suspects should have been armed and wearing body armour. I think if all police are armed, it will just escalate the whole gun culture - and all criminals will feel the need to be armed too.
Junaid Ali, UK
What has happened is a tragedy but I don't believe that police in the UK should be armed. Look at armed American police forces and the difference in the kind of crimes committed there and here. As for protective clothing - why is this even an issue especially in an incident that was related to terrorism? Protective clothing should be standard in this kind of case.
Police should not be armed, criminals should be disarmed!
I was under the impression that the police were armed already. Perhaps that's just because I work in the City.
Martin Hanna, London, UK
How many times have we asked this question? Do we need more guns? Yes and no, if our law courts took a bigger stand in prosecution, people may think twice about just going out thinking they can just about do anything they like, as they know their punishment is minimal, increase jail sentences and make offenders do all of the time they are given. This country is becoming too soft. When on earth are we going to wise up!
I can't understand why officers, sent into a dangerous situation like that in Manchester, would not be armed. The officer who died was not even wearing body armour. It may not be right to arm bobbies on the beat, but common sense should prevail when there is clear and present danger.
Police don't need guns. We don't need trigger happy policemen walking around. The present rate of gun violence can only be reduced by banning gun companies from the UK and greater use of the security services and undercover cops to route out the black marketers involved in the sale of guns.
I think most serving British police officers would say generally the police should not be armed, however in circumstances where the prospect of them coming up against armed criminals, terrorists or other armed individuals, they of course should be able to defend themselves and protect the public in a like manner, and if this means they should be armed, then so be it. Policemen should be supplied with and be required to wear protective clothing at all times.
Like all debates in England, this is being over -intellectualised. Wake up, of course they should, what's the problem? You send unarmed officers out into the streets of London to confront the anarchy and have them unarmed because it makes you look good internationally. Have a look at yourselves...
Yes, yes and yes. PC Oake should not have died yesterday and furthermore he should not have been in that position. It should have been armed anti-terrorist specialists, not normal PCs - even if there was just a suspicion. This is a great shame, condolences to his family.
Wil Wellington, Berkshire
The fact is the officer was caught off guard and the person who surprised him was prepared to use deadly force. Whether he was armed or not would therefore be irrelevant. Protective gear may have helped but no body armour is 100% effective against attack. It was a tragic turn of events but I wouldn't want to see another knee-jerk reaction from government as a response to it
As this was an anti-terrorism operation, the officers should definitely have been armed and have protective body armour on. I think all officers should wear some sort of body protection, but I don't however believe that the average beat bobby should be carrying firearms.
There have been too many people killed needlessly by the police who are already armed. Arm every policeman, and this will surely rise...
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