Ministers reject routine arming of officers

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Indy Politics

Calls for all police officers to be armed in the wake of the Bradford shooting have been rejected by ministers and chief constables. But more specialist firearms officers could be deployed in future.

The association that represents most police officers has said it is likely to poll its members about whether they want to be routinely armed. In a similar survey three years ago, 80 per cent rejected the idea.

Meanwhile, Lord Stevens, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, called yesterday for the death penalty to be reinstated for police killers after the murder of Constable Sharon Beshenivsky.

Despite the renewed calls for officers to be armed, the minister with responsibility for the police was quick to turn down the idea. Hazel Blears said: "In this country we have not had all of our police officers armed with guns and I think that is an important characteristic of British policing.

"If there are incidents involving firearms then every force has armed response units that can respond, properly trained and properly authorised firearms officers. But I don't think arming routine police officers with guns is the right way forward."

Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Met, is also against the suggestion. Britain and New Zealand have the only unarmed police forces in the world.

Chris Fox, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "If you look at the armed police forces around the world, they have far higher casualty rates than we do.

"Often, their officers are caught by surprise in similar circumstances [to PC Beshenivsky], sometimes shot with their own weapons." But Jan Berry, the head of the Police Federation, which represents officers up to the rank of superintendent, said her members should be asked again whether they want to carry guns.

Even if they rejected being routinely armed, more firearms officers were needed on the streets, she argued.

Although gun crime is rising, most of the new offences involve imitation firearms.

Ms Berry said: "Even if routine arming is not correct, we do believe that the number of authorised officers remains too low.

"Some areas face a greater risk from gun crime than others. Where officers in those areas and the public in those areas are at a greater risk, we should be looking closely at increasing the number of firearms officers we have.

"At the moment, we have fewer than 5 per cent trained to carry firearms and we are not convinced that that provides the police service with sufficient resilience."

Michael Winner, the film director who founded the Police Memorial Trust after the 1984 shooting of the policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, said the police "are massively at risk and the only way to protect them is to give them body armour at all times or to arm them."