ANOTHER VIEW; Policemen don't need guns

The debate over whether police officers should be routinely armed has come about for one reason: the increased willingness of criminals to possess and use weapons. The job of the police, in this context, is to respond to the issues of public and officer safety. It is, clearly, our responsibility to preserve both. But what form should that response take, and what methods should be used?

The Police Federation survey of officers from constable to chief inspector rank found that only 21 per cent of officers were in favour of routine arming, but 83 per cent supported an increase in the number of officers trained and issued with firearms. The public view is of importance, too, as routine arming has implications for the style of policing , often the envy of the rest of the civilised world.

The current position is that in most parts of the country, firearms are readily available via 24-hour mobile armouries manned by trained officers. In certain cases where it is inevitable that police will face firearms, then weapons are routinely issued. However, only a single figure percentage of officers are trained. And because the numbers are low, proficiency is of a very high standard indeed.

We recruit police officers for an array of skills, such as care, compassion and commitment appropriate to a community role. Firearms judgement is in no way a concern, for it is very much ancillary to the daily task. Routine arming would, of course, turn that on its head. Many outstanding and committed officers may not meet those exacting standards for firearms now, or review their wish to continue serving if asked to carry a gun.

A crucial question routine armingraises is "will it save lives?" The evidence is unconvincing. Officers are shot - often at long range and when caught by surprise - at the least suspicious of incidents. The increased use of firearms by criminals in consequence of arming the police cannot be overlooked.

The Association of Chief Police Officers is giving top priority to the protection of all against the armed criminal. In common with the mass of police officers - and, we believe, public opinion too - we would prefer this to be achieved without the fundamental change in the way we police our communities which would come with the arming of every patrolling police officer.

The writer is Deputy Chief Constable of West Mercia and secretary of the Association of Chief Police Officers' Joint Standing Committee on the police use of firearms.