Police reject guns on beat

But most want more officers able to carry arms
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The debate over whether the police should be armed at all times was effectively killed off yesterday when officers voted overwhelmingly against routinely carrying guns. But an equally large number - 83 per cent - called for an increase in the number of officers trained and issued with firearms.

A survey of more than 73,400 officers up to the rank of chief inspector in England and Wales also revealed that officers want greater protection, including access to body armour, while facing increasing threats on their lives.

In the largest police ballot carried out, 79 per cent of rank-and-file officers said they were opposed to being routinely armed. In the Police Federation ballot, the Metropolitan Police had the highest proportion of officers - 35 per cent - in favour of carrying firearms on a daily basis, followed by Greater Manchester (26 per cent), Northumbria (22 per cent), West Yorkshire (22 per cent), and Merseyside 22 (per cent).

Just over half the Metropolitan Police officers wanted all men and women in the force to have guns or be trained in their use. There was little difference in the views of young and old officers. But the size of the opposition against routine arming took everyone by surprise.

A small survey last year found that 22 per cent of police constables should be armed on duty. There has been a growing clamour for the police to be routinely armed in response to the greater use of guns by criminals. In the past decade 19 police officers have been murdered, nine of them in shootings.

In 1993, firearms were used in 4,682 incidents, although against the police in only 10 cases. Six officers have been murdered in the past five years.

In the most recent case last month, Constable Philip Walters, 28, who had joined the Metropolitan Police less than two years ago, was shot dead when he and a colleague went to a house in Ilford, East London, after a routine complaint about a disturbance. After the murder Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said: "I don't think most police officers in this country want to be armed and I don't think most people in this country want them to be armed."

Opposition politicians and chief constables have also spoken out against arming on a routine basis. A survey of 1,000 members of the public, also published yesterday, found that only about one in four people supported routine arming, although 63 per cent were in favour of greater availability of guns for officers. Yesterday these sentiments were supported by the police.

But Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation which published the survey on the eve of its annual conference in Bournemouth, denied the vote had quashed any future attempts to introduce routine arming.

He said: "This result proves, once again, that our police officers acknowledge the vital importance of policing by consent, in partnership with the public, despite the risks they take. At the same time, what has to be acknowledged is that there is huge dissatisfaction with the levels of protection afforded to this country's police officers."

He added: "The bobby on the beat faces certain death routinely as we are reminded of that an almost daily basis."

The survey, which took in about 60 per cent of officers in England and Wales, also revealed that in the past two years more than 52,000 officers had their lives threatened in the cause of duty up to 10 times. Up to 55,000 officers were injured by assault between one and 10 times in the course of duty in the past two years.

An overwhelming majority of officers were not satisfied with current levels of self-defence training and 90 per cent want cover and overt body armour. Eighty three per cent wanted an increase in the number of officers trained and issued with firearms when necessary. This would involve greater use of specialist armed response vehicles. The Police Federation yesterday demanded more officers to be trained in the use of firearms, full availability of body armour, better self-defence, and greater willingness to use firearms.

"Right decision", page 2

Leading article, page 14