After the recent tragic shooting of a female police officer in Bradford the police are once again pressing for more of their officers to be trained in the use of guns. The general consensus among police officers is that the percentage of armed officers be increased from 5% to 10%. There are also calls to recruit ex-soldiers into the police force to counter the perceived terrorist threat and as a result of this shooting. The police and various unscrupulous politicians are exploiting the current circumstances to press for yet more authoritarian police statuesque measures (see the current anti-terrorist bill with its provision for people being held for 28 days without trial). The media is also cynically egging this on due to the victim’s photogenic nature and easily marketable backstory. As ever events like this reminds one that politics has little to do with morality; keeping and increasing power is the name of game and many players see this incident as another means of doing this…
So why is arming the police a bad idea? Really it comes down to a mirror image of the American gun rights argument: that the government can’t be trusted with sole monopoly over the means of delivering force on it’s population, and of course adhering to the sound revolutionary principle of having the means to kick the current government out of office, using force if necessary. The converse of this point of view is to keep the police unarmed and thus on an equal level to the citizenry that they are recruited from, either everyone’s armed or no-one at all. Any other position is inconsistent and incoherent leaving the general population open to predation of an ever unsatisfied and more illiberal police force. The police like any politically savvy institution recognise that as Mao put it ‘power grows from the barrel of a gun’
There are two fundamental tensions in the history of British policing that of the bottom up localised force organised county by county conflicting with the perceived need from the government to have a nationally organised force to deal with nationally organised crimes. The second tension is that of the centralised. British policing prior to the Bow Street Runners had been generally a bottom-up ad hoc phenomenon, community run and community organised. The general trend over the last 200 years has been to centralise, professionalize and ‘streamline’ the police, separating them further from the population that they originated from, having yet more armed officers and recruiting ex-soldiers militarises the police turning them into an occupying army rather than a community run and organised institution.
Aside from these philosophical objections to an armed police force there are also sound utilitarian reasons for not trusting the police with the use of deadly force on an unarmed population. The recent police assassination of Mendez while getting on the tube is perhaps the clearest example of why arming the police is a very bad idea, after all guns are quite a handy way of getting around all that messy trial stuff and those antiquated notions of being innocent before being proved guilty, all that messy business of actually having to present evidence in a trial and it does circumvent those running dog defence lawyers as well. All in all more guns for the police is a win/win scenario and anyone with any nous can see that the police an institution will press as hard as they can to extend their powers at the expense of other groups in society. In this instance it is in the interests of wider society for politicians and activists to oppose more police being able to use firearms in the course of their daily duties.