Debate over whether police officers in Hampshire should be routinely armed

Canoe Lake

Picture: Shaun Roster

Robbers target man on a bike at Canoe Lake

  • John Apter chairman of Hampshire Police Federation is calling for officers to be surveyed over routine arming
  • Home secretary Theresa May tells The News she is against that way of policing
  • Former firearms officer speaks of the stressful situations he has been in
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Hurtling along the motorway at nearly 90 miles per hour firearms officers are on their way to a man with a knife.

Adrenaline is pumping through their body as the sirens blare.

The debate over arming police officers is continuing

The debate over arming police officers is continuing

Fragments of information about the situation are coming into the radio.

They’ve been deployed and authorised to use their carbine rifle-type weapons.

When they arrive there’s no time for a briefing and they are immediately confronted by the job in hand.

This is exactly the type of situation faced by specialist firearms police officers across the county.

I’ve only ever been in the position I was just about to pull the trigger once

Former firearms officer

They’ve trained for this moment and ultimately have a huge decision to make – whether or not to pull the trigger of a deadly weapon aimed at another human.

And in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks last November there is a call to find out if more police officers would be willing to be routinely armed.

John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, wants a national survey of police. The last one in 2006 of 47,328 officers returned with 82 per cent saying they did not support routine arming.

And it comes as roads policing officers on the Isle of Wight are being replaced by firearms officers with roads policing training. The force would not say whether or not this will happen in Hampshire.

‘I’ve got no aspirations that every police officer should be armed,’ Mr Apter said.

‘But I think we’ve got to talk about it in a constructive way.

‘That’s both internally as a police service but also with the public.

‘Because what so often happens – and it’s the same argument for Taser and firearms – the public will look at America and they will compare or have fears what happens there will happen here.

‘It’s completely different, you’re not comparing apples with apples.

‘I think we need to understand what our own people want – I’ve spoken to a lot of officers about this and the feeling I get is absolutely they want more officers to be armed and available, spread more evenly but they don’t want routine arming.

‘There is going to be an increase – will it ever be enough?

‘I think for the sort of atrocities you see in Paris there’s never going to be enough.

‘But we need to be better prepared and I think at the moment despite some of our best intentions we’re not as prepared as we should be.’

Just last week the government announced a £34m fund for the Metropolitan Police to add 600 firearms officers – but no such funding has been made available in Hampshire.

Speaking to The News, home secretary Theresa May said: ‘We’re very clear we do not believe in all our police being routinely armed. I think that is the clear view from the police themselves.

‘But what is important is we have trained armed police officers who are able to deal with incidents where that training and those skills are necessary.

‘Having seen the terrorist attack that took place in Paris last November, we’ve looked again at numbers of armed police and we’ll be putting extra funding into increasing our armed police capability.’

In 2015 there were 74 full-time equivalent firearms-qualified officers employed by Hampshire police.

That was a reduction from 87 in March 2010 and 97 in March 2005.

But the number of deployments of armed response vehicles has increased to 10,880 in 2014.

That was up from 10,212 in 2013, 9,943 in 2012, 10,880 in 2011 and 8,448 in 2010.

A former firearms officer from a force spoke to The News about his concerns about officers being routinely armed.

‘I’ve only ever been in the position where I was just about to pull the trigger once,’ he said.

‘I’m dealing with what I perceive to be an immediate threat to my life, colleagues’ lives and members of the public’s lives. A speeding bullet is fastest. You’ll generally have someone to your left or right with less lethal options on them.

‘It really is about your personal perception to your immediate threat, if you’ve got no other option but to pull the trigger – it’s not a nice position to be in.’

With nearly 20 years of experience he has been deployed multiple times.

He said: ‘Having been in that situation a number of times, your heart rate is racing.

‘You’re driving at 80 or 90 on the motorway in pouring rain and you’re confronted with whatever you are.

‘The adrenaline is pumping and it’s the ability to have the cognitive skills to deal with that person. It’s the calm, cool and collected person you want over the hot-headed trigger-happy one.

‘It’s not fair on them if they do get it wrong and end up going to prison.’

Currently firearms officers go through a 10-week course mandated by the College of Policing. Candidates are put to the test before they can be trusted.

Firearms officers are armed when on shift, meaning they are available to be sent to any incidents even when guns are not needed.

But moving to having more officers routinely armed is a source of debate – as Mr Apter acknowledges, and indeed wants.

Simon Hayes, Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner, believes police should be given automatic weapons to combat attacks such as those in Paris.

He said: ‘I know that both locally and nationally tactics are under constant review.

‘I think now, consideration should be given to training and arming specialist officers with automatic weapons to deal with a Paris-style terrorist situation. However, the routine arming of British police officers would mark a fundamental change to the image of British policing and to the way the public see their police.’

He added he expects chief constable Andy Marsh to tell him an increase in the firearms officers is needed.

Roy Swales, Ukip’s candidate for the PCC job in the May election, added: ‘Hampshire has some of the best-trained firearms officers in the country and has an adequate current capability to meet the needs of the population should an incident arise; this will be in the form of the armed response vehicles. Police should generally not be armed.’

The former firearms officer, who asked not to be named, added: ‘They should not under any circumstances have automatic weapons.

‘If you’re firing automatic your first two shots go where you’re aiming but the rest of the bullets will go everywhere.’