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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Dangers of policing the streets
After a police officer was stabbed to death in Luton, are officers facing increasing danger on the streets?

A still from Dixon of Dock Green
Were things really much safer in his day?

Pc Jonathan Henry, 36, was attacked as he responded to a call in Luton town centre. He died later in hospital.

A baton round and Taser electric stun gun were used by officers to restrain the knifeman, but this latest death is likely to fuel the debate on whether more British police officers should carry guns.

Research carried out by the Police Federation for England and Wales last year found 40,000 officers had been faced with a knife, and 7,000 threatened with a gun, during the previous two years.

Officers wear a stab and ballistic-proof vest and are issued with a CS incapacity spray
Pc Paul Tonks

Chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation Pc Paul Tonks said one of his colleagues was injured in a shooting in Wolverhampton in November 2006.

He said that during his 28 years' service there had always been colleagues injured, but the job had become more dangerous recently.

He said: "The easiest way to show this is that now officers wear a stab and ballistic-proof vest and are issued with a CS incapacity spray.

"They are also issued with a baton which is far more effective than those issued 28 years ago."

But he added: "Firearms have been used against police, but it's still extremely unusual."

Two years ago another West Midlands officer, Detective Constable Michael Swindells, was stabbed to death.

'Worrying trend'

Pc Tonks' concerns over safety are echoed throughout the police service.

Crisis management expert Peter Power, a former Metropolitan police officer who specialises in shootings, agreed that it is "incredibly rare" for an officer to be shot.

"In other countries it is not quite so rare - we must never lose sight of that," he said.

However, Mr Power said it was a myth that gun ownership was more common than in the past.

Pc Norman Brennan
The increasing violence against police mirrors that faced by other people in society
Pc Norman Brennan
Protect the Protectors

He said: "There is a popular culture that somehow we are carrying more guns than ever before. I'm not sure.

"I think fear exceeds reality. I think we often get confused. I'm not sure whether there is such a proliferation of gun crime."

But not everyone agrees.

Pc Norman Brennan said violent crime had "shot through the roof" during his 27 years as a policeman.

Pc Brennan, who founded the pressure group Protect the Protectors, said: "Britain is very violent, and the increasing violence against police mirrors that faced by other people in society."

He said: "I have taken on people with knives at least three times and one time I got stabbed in the chest, which nearly cost my life. It had a devastating impact."

David Jones,  Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, with guns handed in during November's gun amnesty
These guns were recently taken off the streets of Manchester

A survey by Jane's Police Review in March 2006 found 21,845 assaults on officers in 51 forces across the UK in a year. Most forces showed year-on-year increases, but one in three forces recorded a fall.

Despite this apparent rise in danger, the number of police officers killed on duty as a result of criminal acts in Britain has not risen sharply.

Before the latest death, Police Memorial Trust figures showed 27 officers were killed in the 1970s, 42 in the 1980s, 21 in the 1990s and 16 since 2000.

Those figures did not include police officers killed in Northern Ireland.

The trust, which erects memorials to officers killed on duty, was set up by film producer Michael Winner, a vocal advocate of arming police officers, after the death of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Police officer stabbed to death
11 Jun 07 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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