Will more armed police keep Britain’s streets safe? Armed violence expert uncertain

© Andrew Winning
An increase in armed police will not necessarily keep Britain’s streets safer from terror attacks, a leading expert on armed violence has said.

Director of Policy and Investigations at Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) Iain Overton made the comment in response to the government’s decision to expand the Metropolitan Police’s pool of armed officers by 600. 

The policy change was put in place after Scotland Yard reviewed its capacity to respond to armed massacres in the wake of last year’s Paris attacks. Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the program was a direct response to the atrocities in the French capital, which left 130 people dead.

Writing in a blog post on AOAV’s website, Overton said the maneuver might initially appear sensible.

“Attacks in Paris and beyond have raised the question as to when, not if, a terrorist attack on British soil will happen again,” he said.

“The obvious solution then, so the logic goes, is to arm London’s police in anticipation.”

Overton said some consider it foolish to oppose the argument that increasing the number of armed officers in a climate of international terrorism will keep the public safe. However, he stressed such a line of thinking is merely an assumption.

The investigative journalist argued that the theory leaves an unanswered question: whether arming police will lower the number of casualties caused by terror attacks.

There are currently 2,200 armed police in London and a third of the extra 600 firearms officers will be on standby at any one time. Under the new measures, the Met’s armed patrols will double, with just under 10 percent of its 32,000 officers being firearms trained.

© Andrew Winning

Overton questioned whether heavily armed police officers would actually help prevent attacks.

“Anyone visiting Paris in the years before the terror attacks of Charlie Hebdo and last December would have seen, plainly, armed French police throughout the city,” he said.

“But did their presence stop the attacks? No. Did their actions swiftly limit casualties? No,” he added.

Overton did not express outright opposition to armed police, but rather posed the question of whether Britain needs more armed officers than it already has.

“This is not to say that the Met police should not have a responsive firearm unit. And this is not to say that key locations should have armed police,” he said.

“But there are already 2,200 trained Met marksmen. The question is, really, do there need to be more?”

Home Secretary Theresa May announced before Christmas that she planned to free up £34 million for police forces to increase the state’s firearms capability so officers could respond rapidly and forcefully to a fire arms attack.

She told police chiefs that she would like to see a 50 percent increase in the number of armed rapid response vehicles and pledged new funding to expand the number of armed specialist counter-terror officers.

Scotland Yard’s extra 600 firearms officers will likely cost £25 million of the £34 million the Home Office ring-fenced.

Chris Phillips, former-head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, has warned against London-centric security arrangements. Speaking to the BBC on Thursday, he called for extra funding to ensure other major cities can afford similar levels of armed police.

Overton said that the weaponry used in the Paris terror attacks rarely infiltrates London’s criminal syndicates. He argued AK47s are “incredibly scarce,” while 7.62mm ammunition is equally rare.

The armed violence expert said it is unlikely bullets and guns would be weapons of choice for terrorists in Britain because it is an island characterized by an effective ban on hand guns, and criminals who are generally unarmed.

Overton questioned the broader consequences of a Met force that was more heavily armed, and posed the question of whether such a move would ultimately lead to a higher number of fatalities in non-terror related incidents.

The investigative journalist published an eye opening account of war and weapons in April 2015 called Gun Baby Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of the Gun.

The book traced the grueling effects of guns across the world, from shady weapons ports in Ukraine to the criminal underworld of Papua New Guinea. Through his conversations with Zionist counter-terror gun trainers, gangland murderers, and South African medics drenched in the blood of victims of gun violence, he uncovered the gritty reality of war and gun violence.