Si, en Irlande du Nord, tous les policiers portent des armes à feu, c’est très loin d’être le cas dans le reste du Royaume-Uni. Cette tradition remontant au XIXème siècle, ayant servi à gagner la confiance de la population, est un sujet de débat récurrent aujourd’hui ravivé par la série d’attentats mortels de Londres et Manchester. Faut-il armer toutes les forces de l’ordre ?
Within eight minutes of three terrorists beginning their murderous rampage at London Bridge in June, armed police had shot them dead. But not before the criminals had killed eight people and injured many more. Officers were already at the scene but, unarmed, they had been unable to stop them. In March Keith Palmer, an unarmed police constable, was killed trying to stop Khalid Masood’s attack at Westminster. These recent “marauding” terrorist incidents have provoked debate in Britain about whether more of its police should carry guns.
2. Britain is unusual in how lightly it arms its police. It is one of only five members of the OECD, a group of 35 mainly rich countries, that does not routinely give officers guns. Because of its particular history, police in Northern Ireland are commonly armed. But in England and Wales only around 5% of the 123,000 officers carry guns. The number of firearms operations declined by 36% between 2009 and 2016, possibly as a result of wider use of non-lethal weapons such as Tasers by the police.
3. Armed officers open fire rarely. In the eight years to March 2016 police discharged their guns during just 40 incidents. Since 1990, 67 people have been killed in police shootings in England and Wales. In America, where guns are widespread among both the police and the general population, almost 1,000 people were killed by the police last year alone. Britain spends more time training its armed officers not to fire their weapons than to shoot, says Peter Neyroud, a former chief constable.
4. Could arming the police more widely make both them and the public safer? The number of officers in England and Wales has fallen by 18% since 2010. With fewer coppers, giving
Guns enhance officers’ sense of safety but not necessarily their actual safety.
those that remain guns would be literally another weapon in their arsenal in responding to crime.
5.But arming officers can also make them more likely to take risks and engage in dangerous situations, according to a study by Ross Hendy, a researcher at the University of Cambridge and policeman in New Zealand, where police are generally unarmed. Guns enhance officers’ sense of safety but not necessarily their actual safety. In Norway police generally keep guns in their cars (although those in big cities are temporarily carrying weapons, in response to the threat of terrorism) but must ask for permission to use them. That means a delay of a few mincarrying utes before any shots are fired. Such delays allow officers to consider how best to approach the situation and to call for back up. On average, seven officers were present at each incident involving firearms in Norway, compared with only three in Sweden, where police routinely carry guns.
6. A widespread roll-out of firearms in Britain is unlikely in the near future. Armed officers volunteer for the role and are highly trained. Their number has fallen in recent years and recruiting more is proving hard. Training large numbers of coppers to use guns would be expensive, and police budgets have been cut. And police have mixed feelings about guns; about a tenth of officers in London say they would rather quit their job than do so.
Police secure the area around the Parliament of Great Britain in London, March 22, 2017.