Support among rank-and-file officers for fully armed police service growing

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Support for a fully armed police service among the rank-and-file has jumped as forces confront an unprecedented terrorist threat, according to a major staff survey.

One in three (34%) respondents polled by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) was in favour of arming all officers.

Although the survey found a majority do not back routine arming, the proportion who believe the move is needed has gone up from less than a quarter (23%) in the last national poll in 2006.

Most police in the UK are unarmed, setting the country apart from many other nations around the world.

The PFEW polled its membership to gauge views on a topic which has come under the spotlight again after a wave of terrorist attacks.

Analysis of 32,366 responses showed 8.9% believe all officers should receive appropriate training and be armed at all times, either on or off duty.

A quarter (25.2%) of respondents backed routine arming but only when on duty.

The percentages in the two categories compare to 4.9% and 18.5% respectively 11 years ago.

In the latest poll, the most common response, at 42.5%, was that firearms should not be issued to all officers but more should receive training and be armed as and when necessary.

Others said all officers should be trained and issued with firearms when needed (16.8%) or that the status quo is about right (6.2%).

Steve White, chairman of the PFEW, said the federation expected to see an increase in support for routine arming.

He added: "Despite the atrocities seen this year, a terror threat that only goes up, never down, and prolonged pressure heaped on officers, they still hold on to the principle of policing by consent, with two-thirds of officers not wishing to be routinely armed if given the choice."

He said policing has changed dramatically since the last survey in 2006. "I'm not surprised there is real concern amongst officers and a real desire to say 'actually, I'm prepared to carry a firearm'," Mr White said.

He suggested a fully armed police service was "inevitable".

Mr White said: "In the 29 years of my policing service, we've seen threat levels increase, we've seen firearms capability have to increase. I think that is going to have to continue. Inevitably, I suspect in some years' time we are going to have a wholly-armed British police service.

"But that is not going to destroy the concept of policing by consent and the importance of the way police engage with communities."

However, the head of Scotland Yard voiced opposition to the prospect of routine arming.

Cressida Dick said: "I understand why people are saying 'well, surely many more officers, or maybe even all officers, should be armed' but I don't actually agree."

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick (Victoria Jones/PA)
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Met Police Commissioner told LBC radio: "I don't want to see every officer on every street corner carrying a gun."

Authorised firearms officers volunteer for the job and have to undergo rigorous training and selection processes.

Home Office statistics show there were 6,278 armed officers across the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales as of the end of March - an increase of 639 (11%) compared with a year earlier.

A major uplift was launched after the Paris terror attacks in 2015 and the number is due to top 7,000 by April next year.

Police chiefs are carrying out a fresh review of the armed response in the wake of a wave of terrorist incidents in the UK.