Police Firearms History

Police photos

Arming the police

Police use of firearms in the United Kingdom has been a slow, controversial and developing process as senior officers wanted their forces to still have the "British Bobby" or Dixon of Dock Green effect on the community. During the Second World War firearms were only carried on protection duties such as 10 Downing Street and the Royal Family, but police were given many firearms in case of invasion. Although they were never taken on general patrol, due to the lack of equipment when issued with a firearm it was usually without a holster to accommodate the weapon, as all available equipment was in huge demand because of the war. Training for the Webley & Scott Revolvers usually consisted of firing six shots and to pass, it was required that three shots had to be on target although loading of the actual weapon was not taught. Even more so in the after war years when ex service men were in the police as their previous knowledge was thought to suffice. In 1948, after The Second World War. Concerns were aired by the Home Office of the police forces role of another war or nuclear attack, to combat this it was decided that some of the forces would be loaned Sten Guns by the Ministry of Defence and a number of Lee Enfield No4 Mk 2s these along with revolvers and ammunition were kept in secret depots around the United Kingdom so every force had the weapons close and could get access to them when and if the time come.

Historically, officers on night patrols in some London divisions were frequently armed with Webley revolvers. These were introduced following the murder of two officers in 1884, although individual officers were able to choose whether to carry the weapons. After the Battle of Stepney in 1911, Webley semi-automatics were issued to officers, armed police were rare by the turn of the century, and were retired formally in July 1936. From that point on, firearms could only be issued by a Sergeant with good reason, and only then to officers who had been trained in their usage.

The issue of routine arming was raised after the 1952 Derek Bentley case where a Constable was shot dead and a Sergeant severely wounded, and again after the 1966 Massacre of Braybrook Street, in which three London officers were killed. As a result, around 17% of officers in London became authorised to carry firearms. After the deaths of a number of members of the public in the 1980s fired upon by police, control was considerably tightened, many officers had their firearm authorisation revoked, and training for the remainder was greatly improved. As of 2005, around seven per cent of officers in London are trained in the use of firearms. Firearms are also only issued to an officer under strict guidelines.

In order to allow armed officers to respond rapidly to an incident, most forces have patrolling Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs). ARVs were modelled on the Instant Response Cars introduced by the West Yorkshire Police in 1976, and were first introduced in London in 1991, with 132 armed deployments being made that year.

Although largely attributable to a significant increase in the use of imitation firearms and air weapons, the overall increase in firearms crime between 1998/99 and 2002/03 (it has been decreasing since 2003/04, although use of imitations continued to rise) has kept this issue in the spotlight. In October 2000, Nottinghamshire Police introduced regular armed patrols to the St Ann's and Meadows estates in Nottingham, in response to fourteen drug-related shootings in the two areas in the previous year. Although the measure was not intended to be permanent, patrols were stepped up in the autumn of 2001 after further shootings. Despite this, Police Federation surveys have continued to show overwhelming police officer resistance to routine arming. In the Federation's most recent (2006) Officer/Arming survey, 82% of respondents were against the routine arming of police.

As of September 2004, all forces in England and Wales have access to tasers, but they may only be used by Authorised Firearms Officers and 'Specially Trained Units'. The Police Federation have since called for all officers to be issued with tasers, with some public support.

Shootings of police officers

Outside of Northern Ireland, shootings of police officers are rare, between 1900 and 2006 67 officers were killed by firearms. Since 1990 six officers have died from gunshot wounds, including Ian Broadhurst in December 2003, and Sharon Beshenivsky in November 2005.In both cases multiple officers were shot, with the two incidents accounting for four officers being shot. Deaths have been much higher in Northern Ireland, with over two hundred firearms fatalities, the vast majority linked to The Troubles.