More police firepower urged

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The Independent Online
The most authoritative poll of front-line police yet carried out in Britain will stop short of calling for routine arming but will confirm growing alarm at the numbers of assaults on officers.

The survey's detailed findings, which will be revealed at the Police Federation conference tomorrow, are expected to show growing support among officers for greater personal protection measures and wider availablity of firearms.

The findings will put Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, under renewed pressure to provide the police with a more powerful armoury.

Federation leaders will urge Mr Howard, who is due to address the conference on Wednesday, to allow immediate trials of 'incapacitants' such as pepper sprays, Mace and CS gas, as a way of forestalling the need for routine arming. They will also call for chief officers to be given greater discretion in issuing different batons and protective vests.

The federation, which represents more than 120,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector, has already made it clear it wants chief officers to consider more frequent armed patrols in areas of high crime risk.

Two thousand of the 95,000 constables in England and Wales were questioned by Gallup about their views on arming and the use of guns, personal safety, self defence equipment and jobs. More than 1,400 replied.

A thousand members of the public were asked about their perceptions of the dangers officers faced and attitudes towards armed police.

Fred Broughton, the federation vice- chairman, said it commissioned the survey because of rising numbers of officers killed and injured on duty. Eight officers have died in the past three years.

'The injury rate is running at between 15,000 and 20,000 a year. We consider that unacceptable. We have all been conscious of a changing view among the service with a more intensive demand for protective equipment and arming of officers. This independent poll is intended to get a clear picture of current attitudes.'

Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has said the growing frequency of attacks on officers in London increased the 'possibility, indeed the probability, of routinely arming officers'. Several senior officers have indicated that grassroots reluctance among constables and sergeants is the only barrier to routine arming.

Proposals to permit officers from the South-east Regional Crime Squads (SERCS) to carry machine-guns to tackle more heavily armed criminals are being assessed by Geoffrey Markham, Assistant Chief Constable of Essex police, a SERCS spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Leading article, page 13

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