Arming police debated on BBC's 'The Big Questions'

20 February 2017

Steve White

Public debate on arming British police officers continued over the weekend when Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, joined panellists and members of the public to discuss the issue on BBC One’s ‘The Big Questions’.

Steve joined the Programme Director of Amnesty International Scotland, Naomi McAuliffe, former police officer turned author Mike Pannett and Scotland Editor of the Spectator and columnist for the Times, Alex Massie, to discuss topics including training, increasing threats and Taser.

Naomi McAuliffe began the debate by challenging the standard of training that could be delivered and maintained if more and more had to be armed with either a firearm of Taser.

Steve White rebutted the fact that training would be compromised; making it clear that Taser training for police officers in the UK is some of the most stringent in the world and goes beyond simply a three day course. Whilst this addresses the practical use of the equipment the fact is officers are constantly being trained on decision making which is key for choosing when to use the device.

Mike Pannett, a former police officer in both the Metropolitan and North Yorkshire forces, outlined how the reality is that the UK currently faces a very real threat from terrorism. In order to help mitigate this threat officers need the right equipment available, a sentiment fully supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales.

In a recent national survey of officers and a separate survey of Metropolitan police officers, there was significant support for the availability of Taser from those who responded, 82% and 75% respectively. A public survey in December 2016 further outlined support for the device with 71% of respondents considering it acceptable for police officers to carry Taser when on patrol. A welfare survey of officers across England and Wales in 2016 also outlined officer’s desire for increased double-crewing and further availability of body worn video.

Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive of Cyrenians, a Scottish charity supporting people excluded from family, work or community, believes it should be about how police deal with conflict rather than react to it.

Alex Massie, Scotland Editor of the Spectator and columnist for the Times, felt that routinely arming police encourages the escalation of situations so that force is used.

Steve White made it clear that losing close to 22,000 officers since 2009 has meant that there are fewer officers proactively patrolling our streets than ever before, forcing them into a position where they are being purely reactive. Because of this they need the equipment to deal with the dangerous situations they respond to as they don’t always have the time to wait for specialist support.

Importantly, becoming a firearms officer or carrying a Taser is a choice. It’s not one officers make lightly understanding the rigorous process of selection and training as well as the scrutiny faced when they discharge their weapon.

Finally, the panel discussed the disproportionate use of Taser against BME members of the community with Naomi McAuliffe believing levels of trust in policing is very different across varying communities.

Catch up on the programme through the BBC iPlayer.