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Is Theresa May leading Britain towards US style police shootings?

One of the more bizarre announcements I heard this week was that of the deployment of armed police officers at two places of worship in Kent.

Firstly Canterbury Cathedral is apparently being viewed as a target for extremists, presumably because it’s the closest major site of Christian worship to the continent.  Why only Canterbury has been singled out as target hasn’t been properly explained.  Maybe Jihadists can only run to a daytrip ticket on the ferry.

The second infinitely more important target is apparently that equally revered temple of consumerist worship, Bluewater Shopping Centre.

Lakeside – a shopping centre almost as big on the other side of the river – appears not to be included in this new security regime, which begs the question as to why Bluewater has been singled out.

As someone who up until 10 years ago ran a store in Bluewater, before it become the nadir of brand adoration in the south east, I’m painfully aware of just how paranoid the management is.  Indeed, on a recent return visit I was rapidly descended upon by security staff after taking a single picture of the location of my former store.

Bluewater was also famous for its much publicised ban on hoodies some years ago, so perhaps this predisposition to see threats from every quarter has inspired the need for armed protection.  Either that or they’re planning to take a much firmer line with shoplifters in the future.

OK, the motivations here are presumably to protect high profile locations.  But if churches and shopping centres are seen as such, then why not deploy armed protection at all these locations?  If this becomes an unchallenged principle, how long before we’re being offered this as a justification for further arming of ordinary police officers?  How long before any high street or public gathering is seen as a target worthy of similarly enhanced protection?

All this comes as a contingent of some 600 additional firearms officers were mobilised in the capital by the Metropolitan Police as part of general security enhancements after terror attacks in Europe and elsewhere, but also a week after Kent’s crime commissioner Matthew Scott called for a review into how firearms officers are recruited.

Plans announced in August to recruit another 1500 firearms trained police officers have apparently been stalled due to a lack of applicants.  The poor response to the recruitment drive is said to be down to the reluctance of regular officers to carry guns due to the chances of them being prosecuted as a result of actually using them.

Given events in the USA this week, I find that somewhat encouraging as we seem to see a polar opposite position developing across the pond. There it seems almost de rigueur to whip the shooter out and pop anything that moves, or I should say anyone black who moves.

Actually movement isn’t even a requirement.  As we’ve seen over recent months, lying motionless on the ground with your hands in the air shouting your surrender is provocation enough to earn you couple of rounds.

Elsewhere standing against your own vehicle with both hands visible is apparently an aggressive act, as it sitting in your car reading a book or reaching for your driving licence after being told to do so.

For some years now it’s been clear that some armed police officers in the USA are out of control.  True we may only see the bad examples in the media, but then again there are so many of those examples to choose from, and amidst Trump’s racist rhetoric I can’t see things getting better any time soon

There now appears to be little that people of colour can do in the US to prevent being shot during an arrest.  Police officers are apparently so risk averse that they’d rather see a suspect dead on the ground than take the trouble of actually giving them the benefit of the doubt.  Especially if that suspect is black.

Yes there are risks involved in policing in a country where buying a gun in some states is as easy as buying a hotdog.  But that risk is what police officers are trained and equipped to deal with.  It’s also a risk they’re paid to accept as part of their role as servants of the community, rather than as self appointed executioners.

The nonchalance with which they discharge their weapons seems only to be matched by their enthusiasm in doing so.  In most incidents one or more cops are seen firing multiple times in what is an obvious intention to kill.

These aren’t shots to wound or disable, they’re little more than frenzied attacks.  The fact that many of the victims are usually left unattended to bleed out on the street afterwards shows how little concern these officers have for those lives they’ve just so casually taken.  The lack of accountability for their actions is then bolstered by an almost guaranteed not guilty verdict in any later prosecution, assuming it even gets that far.

So I’m glad that our police officers seem so reluctant to regularly patrol with a gun on their hip.  I’m pleased they fear prosecution and that, with some notable exceptions, they will hesitate before letting fly at a suspect.  The killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 and Mark Duggan in 2011 are notable but thankfully rare events.  However this may be a factor of our police not generally being routinely armed.

And let’s not forget that even Tasers can be fatal in some circumstances as former Aston Villa footballer Dalian Atkinson found out to his cost.  As a notable black figure, the death of Dalian raised well founded concerns that the use of these weapons was three time more likely if the suspect concerned was black.

More recently we saw mobile phone footage of PC Savage (yes that apparently really is his name and it’s not an homage to the NTNON sketch) smashing the windscreen of a car after a traffic stop in North London.

PC Savage has since been put on restricted duties pending an inquiry after explaining that his actions were prompted by a simple case of mistaken identity.  But anyone who has seen that video, can’t help but wonder what the outcome might have been if he’d been able to draw a gun rather than a penknife.

In her former role as Home Secretary, Theresa May was known to be in favour of increasing the number of armed police on our street.  Let’s hope that now she’s in the driving seat we don’t see a renewed impetus to increase the percentage of our beat police who are routinely armed.

Even though I accept there’s a need to be responsive to an increased threat level, I’m still uncomfortable with seeing our police wielding guns.  We seem to be moving further down the road towards an armed police force with virtually no discussion at Westminster.  It’s time we had a national debate on this before taking too many more steps.  Otherwise it appears all that’s standing in the way of more armed police on British streets is the reluctance of the British bobby to join his or her gun toting counterparts from the land of the free.

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