Like many serving or retired police officers I served in the Army for a number of years before joining the police and as such, I can speak from experience. The proposal that soldiers might need to be deployed at sensitive or potential terrorist target buildings because there are insufficient firearms trained officers needs to be binned before it gains any momentum.
Why is there a shortage of firearms officers of officers volunteering to receive firearms training? The answer appears to be a fear that the police as an organisation won’t support officers if anything goes wrong or if it is suggested that something has gone wrong. There is no end of people waiting to queue up and accuse the police of every shape and shade of misconduct and officers simply don’t feel supported. This lack of support and the preparedness to throw an officer to the wolves existed during my service and I have experienced it firsthand. Is it any wonder that officers are reluctant to receive firearms training? It never fails to amaze me that the media consistently seem to imply that the police close ranks when something goes wrong. The truth is any officer accused of any misconduct is effectively plucked from the ranks and made to feel very isolated.
A firearms officer who discharges their weapon and kills or injures any party had better be 100% certain that firing their weapon was the right thing to do. Now for anybody unfamiliar with violence and firearms situations let me clarify that decisions need to be made in a split second and achieving 100% certainty is next to impossible.
Is that a piece of wood the suspect is pointing at you or is it a gun? If you fire and hit the suspect and the suspected gun is a piece of wood the media are going to make a meal of it, reporting about trigger happy police. But if that object is a gun and you don’t fire you risk your own life, the lives of your colleagues and anybody else present. If it is only a piece of wood, then why is the suspect holding and pointing it at an officer as if it is a gun? This really happens by the way and idiots do imitate the pointing of a handgun or long-barrelled weapon at people.
The gun was unloaded, it was an imitation gun, or the suspect had mental health issues are common accusations after a shooting.
Let me tell you that the person who invents a device that will tell firearms officers if the weapon being pointed at police is unloaded, an imitation gun or the suspect had mental health issues are going to make a fortune. Unfortunately, there is no such device and officers have to draw upon their training and experience and make decisions in a split second.
“Why didn’t you shoot him in the leg?” is a favourite question of those that have never experienced a gun being pointed at them. Suspects carry guns in their hands and shooting a suspect in the leg isn’t going to stop them firing back at you. It’s only in the films that the good guys manage to shoot guns from the hands of the bad guys.
I honestly don’t know the numbers involved, but I do know that many firearm officers have been long-term suspended from duty or have stood trial for firing their weapons in a challenging situation. Now let’s consider soldiers being placed in similar situations. Is the fact that the person firing a weapon is a soldier going to change the way that the incident is investigated or is the solder going to be given leeway because they are a solder and not a police officer. Not on your Nelly. It wouldn’t be long before some poor soldier finds themselves gripping the rail of the Central Criminal Court charged with murder or some firearms related offence.
Having been employed as a soldier and a police officer I can categorically state they are as different as chalk and cheese. Police officer training covers a wide range of subjects and is designed to give an officer the knowledge and skills to deal with most incidents by themselves. I know that officers occasionally patrol in pairs and that you get police carriers containing a dozen or so officers to deal with public order situations, but most officer’s patrol alone.
Soldiers are team players and practically all their training is team based. When the army was called in to help deal with the floods they responded as a team and worked as a team. Start taking soldiers away from that team mentality and giving them, individual responsibilities and you are immediately placing them under stress.
There have been times and most surely will be times in the future when British soldiers are deployed on mainland Britain, but these occasions should be specific and not routine.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for all our armed services and the conflicts of recent years have truly been challenging. Let’s not forget that the problem of a shortage of firearms officers isn’t because there aren’t enough police officers in service, although there is a good argument that there are insufficient police officers to effectively police the UK. No, the problem is a perceived lack of support amongst the rank and file officers which extends beyond firearms officers and encapsulates every copper trying their very best to do their jobs.
Until police officers have confidence in their own forces and the governance of policing this problem will only get worse and no amount of squaddies will make any difference.