Militarisation of the Police

Are the streets of England becoming as dangerous as various war zones around the world?

The elite cadre of specialist firearms officers within the Metropolitan Police Force Firearms Unit (formerly SO19) in their black uniforms and the Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer (CTSFO) in their grey uniforms look so similar to their military equivalents as to be undistinguishable.

These officers are perhaps the extreme end of the Militarisation of the Police but is appears that this trend to adopt a more military appearance and approach to the increasing dangers of police work is growing. Practically every unformed officer now wears an anti stab / low calibre protection vest i.e. a Flak jacket as worn by soldiers in combat.

When we see soldiers deployed on duties within the UK such as assisting flood area’s the soldiers aren’t wearing flak jackets, and yet the police still are. Are soldiers now safer on the streets than uniformed coppers? The brutal killing of drummer Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Woolwich on 22 May 2013 is evidence that they are not.

When did our streets become so dangerous for our service personal? It’s not just coppers or soldiers that get attacked, ambulance crews also regularly get attacked and what about the idiots who attack fire brigade officers when they are fighting a fire.

I was a young PC when the first Brixton riot occurred and the police were woefully ill prepared with equipment or training to deal with the events happening. I’m not going to attempt to justify or explain why the riots happened or the actions of police before; during and after the riots I don’t have the knowledge or skill to do so. I do know that following the first Brixton riots there was a change in attitude to training and the wearing of protective clothing.

I also know that by the time of the Tottenham riots of 1985 the training and equipment was still insufficient, and we lost Keith Blakelock in the most horrific manner and numerous other officers, many of them know to me as friends and colleagues were badly hurt.

I don’t seek to offer any explanation, excuses or comments about the Tottenham riots of 1985, I simply don’t know enough or have the skills to present any conclusions.

All I do know is that policing is dangerous, not every day, some days are uneventful, but danger can appear without any warning and officers need to be constantly vigilant. Training and having the right equipment to enable the copper on the street to go about their job of policing knowing that every practical safety precaution has been taken is essential.

Specialist firearms officers are called to respond to an incident or are deployed on a planned operation. The copper on the street is the person who calls for back up and is the person who has to deal with an incident until support arrives and having been in that situation I know that even the fastest support can feel like hours when you are in danger.

When I joined the Met in 1980 we were issued handcuffs and a wooden truncheon. In all my service I never pulled my truncheon to deal with a violent offender, they were bloody useless. I had a mate in the West Midlands police who told me a story about basically fighting a couple of guys who were intent on seriously hurting him. He told me that he pulled his truncheon and used it to hit both guys; including hitting one across the face and all it did was make them angry. It didn’t knock them out, break any bones or even slow them down, they just got angrier. Fearing for his life he reverted to punching, kicking and basic street fighting and held his own until support turned up. The only time I ever used my truncheon was to smash windows to gain entry to a car or house. I did however use my handcuffs regularly and they were a good bit of kit, which has now been improved upon.

There are now a range of different police truncheons including a small extendable flick open metal truncheon favoured by CID officers because it is so small. Thankfully I never needed to use my extendable flick open truncheon, basically because as a detective I always took a couple of big uniformed coppers with me if I was expecting any trouble.

As a detective I normally had sufficient time to risk assess any operation I proposed conducting and could arrange whatever support I considered necessary to achieve my objective. Uniformed officers don’t have that luxury; they deal with live time incidents as they happen.

I don’t particularly like the fact that the line between a military style police force and the traditional image of civil police is blurring, but we must face the facts that police officers often confront dangerous criminals or engage in activity which necessitates they are given the appropriate protective equipment and clothing.


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