More than two-thirds of the public believed that all officers should have access. Most of the police polled thought that only specially trained officers should be issued with firearms.
The survey, carried out on behalf of 90,000 police constables in England and Wales, also revealed a stronger desire for improved protection amongst officers patrolling urban areas than in more rural forces. Police Federation leaders said the findings showed strong public support for better protection of officers.
At the federation's conference in Brighton yesterday, Fred Broughton, its vice-chairman, said the message to politicians and chief officers was clear.
'We need better protection and we need it right now. The public are right behind us. They've seen us taking unacceptable casualties in the past few years and their message is the same as ours - enough is enough. Protect the thin blue line, otherwise society will have no protection.'
The federation denied precipitating a move to a fully armed police service. Richard Coyles, its chairman, despite warning that arming was 'inevitable', said: 'I'm not saying police will be armed from 9am tomorrow. I am saying we should do everything we can to slow it down by giving us protective equipment.'
Failure, he said, would lead to men and women in blue uniforms turning round and saying they cannot be expected to police certain high-risk areas.
The survey, carried out by Gallup between February and May this year, asked questions of 1,000 members of the public. Two thousand police constables were also asked, of whom 1,400 responded.
Officers polled were overwhelmingly male (85 per cent), aged between 25 and 44, married or living with a partner, with more than 10 years' service.
Five per cent of officers believed they should be armed on and off duty. This rose to 12 per cent of London officers; 8 per cent of the public agreed. The same numbers of police and public (22 per cent) thought officers should be armed on duty as opposed to 31 per cent of London officers.
More than twice as many members of the public (37 per cent) thought police should be armed 'as and when' necessary compared with officers (18 per cent). Only 31 per cent of the public believed specially trained officers should be issued with guns as opposed to 54 per cent of police, although this dropped to 37 per cent among London officers.
Officers in urban forces, especially in London, were least satisfied with the status quo. Nearly half (48 per cent) of London PCs thought Scotland Yard's system of support by armed response vehicles was not satisfactory. Mobile patrols often arrived too late to provide effective protection for patrolling officers.
There was keen awareness amongst the public of the increasing dangers faced by front-line police officers. Nine out of 10 asked thought steps should be taken to improve their protection.
The survey showed that, on average in the past two years, most PCs had been assaulted twice and had faced life-threatening situations five times.Reuse content