Police officers increasingly want to be armed, survey finds

Kate McCann
The National Police Federation surveyed tens of thousands of officers about arming patrols - Nick Edwards

More than a third of all police in England and Wales believe officers should be routinely armed, a rise of ten percentage points in a decade, a new survey has shown.

A report from the National Police Federation found that 43 per cent of officers want all police to be trained in the use of guns, but do not think they should be forced to carry them all the time. 

One of the starkest findings of the survey, to which 33,366 officers responded, was more than half of serving police said they did not believe armed support would be available if required while only six per cent think there are enough armed officers already.

It is the first time the survey has been carried out in more than ten years, following a 2006 review that found that 23 per cent of officers wanted all police to be armed.

The Police Federation notes the context of the 2017 review, which came after a number of high profile terror attacks in which police were killed or injured, including one in Parliament in which Pc Keith Palmer was fatally stabbed.

It notes that there has been an increase in the number of officers who have had their lives threatened.

In 2006, 42 per cent of officers said they had had their life threatened at least once in the previous two years, compared to 54 per cent now.

Those who have been threatened more than three ones also rose from 14 per cent to 25 per cent.

Officers who have been left in danger are more likely to support regular carrying of firearms, the research found. 

The report states: "Support for routine arming increases from 25 per cent among those reporting no incidents to 62 per cent among those saying they have felt threatened seven or more times in the last two years.

"Furthermore support for routing arming progressively increases the more officers have been exposed to such threats: 36 per cent among those reporting one experience, 42 per cent reporting two, 50 per cent reporting three or four and 56 per cent reporting five or six".

In brief | Armed police in the UK

Female officers are less likely to want to see all officers regularly armed but more likely to want all police to be trained to use guns in and when they are needed.

Younger officers and those who have not been members of the force for long also support guns more than older and longer serving police, while officers who police the roads and inner city areas are also more supportive. 

Overall two thirds of officers do not want to see police routinely armed but 43 per cent think more training should be given so guns can be used more regularly by all officers.

Steve White, the chair of the Police Federation, made clear that the survey asked for views in specialist armed officers, not the use of hand guns for personal protection as is routine in other countries.

He said: "What the survey is telling us is that here is inexorable but reluctant move towards arming of the police service.

"Police officers do not join the police service to carry a gun. It will become a very reluctant service that becomes fully armed if that ever happens."

At a glance | Armed police around the world
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