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Should the London Metropolitan Police Service be armed with Tasers and guns?

On 13 February 2017, the Metropolitan Police Federation (MPF) published findings of its survey it had announced in January 2017. The survey was sent out to all of its 32,000 members of the federation, yet less than half, 11,000, responded.

The survey found:

  • 75% felt that all Metropolitan Police officers should be issued with a Taser whilst on duty;
  • 43% believed ‘there should be more specialist firearms officers in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) but not all officers should be routinely armed;
  • 57% stated they would be prepared to carry a gun if the Commissioner and the Home Secretary made a decision that all officers should routinely carry a firearm on duty,
  • 26%, just over one in four respondents said that they believe all police officers should be routinely armed.

Ken Marsh, Chairman of the MPF, said the results would help staff shape future discussions with the new MPS Commissioner and the Mayor’s office over Taser, firearms and both officer and public safety.

The survey comes in response to what the MPF say is a raised terror threat and risk to officer safety, following on from high-profile European terror attacks. According to MI5 the current level for international terrorism in the UK is severe and has remained that way since 29 August 2014.

The question which follows is how effective are guns in the prevention of what is referred to as international terrorism and should we be concerned about the possibility that officers could be routinely equipped with firearms / and or Tasers? After all the MPF’s findings as Ken Marsh puts it are designed to ‘shape future discussions about both officer and public safety’, which on the face of it sounds positive but I cannot help but feel concerned about that prospect.

Since 1990, 63 people in England and Wales were fatally shot by police officers and out of those 24 were shot by officers from the Metropolitan Police. The fact that nine out of the 24 fatally shot were from black and minority ethnic communities is highly concerning and is a stark reminder of the disproportionality when it comes to policing and the BAME community.

But what is the protocol when shots are fired? The IPCC will launch an independent investigation to establish what happened. However, the IPCC has been heavily criticized by bereaved families for insensitivity, poor communication, lacking thoroughness, lacking robust analysis to challenge the evidence of police accounts and for the variable quality and length of investigations. The reality is that bereaved families often end up having to fight for years for some form of answers but will never truly know what happened to their loved ones. The conclusion is that the system is deeply flawed.

Following the inquest in to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, the MPS Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that officers would trial body-worn video cameras, a move which was welcomed by some community campaigners and would have possibly shed some light on what really happened that day had officers been wearing them on that fateful day. Yet during the Tottenham Town Hall community meeting following the fatal shooting of Jermaine Baker in December 2015, community members were outraged when told that there was no CCTV or police body camera footage of the incident. The same is echoed in the fatal shooting of Yassar Yaqub in January 2017 involving West Yorkshire Police. It appears that lessons are not being learned.

The same can be said for Tasers, which were introduced in 2003 and since then there have been at least 17 deaths linked to their use. Tasers are described on the MPS’s website as a less-lethal single shot weapon which allows officers to deal with violent or potentially violent people at a distance.

Between January 2016 and September 2016 MPS officers deployed 1,517 Tasers from which 491 were drawn (removed from holster), 691 were red dotted (pointed at subject), 144 were aimed and 179 were fired. The highest numbers of Taser deployment have been reported in the Borough of Lambeth.

According to Home Office figures black people are three times more likely to be Tasered. Figures also suggest that Taser’s are being used against children. In 2015 there were 476 cases involving people under the age of 18 which is a slight drop from the previous year from 522 but this is still an increase from 349 in 2010. Of those cases in 2014, 158 involved children under 16.

The reality is that equipping more officers with Tasers will inevitably see their usage rise and potentially more incidents mirroring that of the deaths of Dalian Atkinson and Andrew Pimlott, or the recent incident involving a Bristol police officer Tasering their own race relations officer. .

As long as we have a police watchdog system which is deeply flawed and a police force that is unable to learn lessons or take active steps to move towards accountability and transparency, the prospect of having officers routinely equipped with firearms and / or Tasers is extremely concerning. A police force that has been declared institutionally racist following publication of the Macpherson report in February 1999, fails to tackle complaints of racial discrimination, uses stop and search powers disproportionately against black and minority ethnic groups and has officers openly admitting to using racial profiling in their policing should not routinely equip its officers with firearms.