Po­lice in Bri­tain fired their guns just seven times in the last year

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice of­fi­cers have been a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal is­sue in the United States in re­cent years. From Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son to Fred­die Gray in Bal­ti­more, such killings, of­ten of young African Amer­i­cans, reg­u­larly lead in­ter­na­tional news head­lines. One count­ing pro­ject found 613 peo­ple had been killed by US po­lice in 2016, as of 28 July. Amer­i­can po­lice rou­tinely carry guns, and most high pro­file in­ci­dents are shoot­ings. Of­fi­cial fig­ures in the United King­dom could not paint a more dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Sta­tis­tics re­leased by the Home Of­fice – Bri­tain’s in­te­rior min­istry – show how rare it is for the UK’s po­lice to use guns.

In Eng­land and Wales in the 12 months to March 2016, Bri­tish po­lice dis­charged their firearms on just seven oc­ca­sions, the sta­tis­tics, re­leased on Thurs­day show.

This fig­ure is ac­tu­ally a record, of sorts. In the same pe­riod end­ing in March 2013, firearms were used only three times. In the 2015 pe­riod they were used six times. Seven uses of weapons is the high­est since at least 2009.

Bri­tain’s po­lice do not rou­tinely carry firearms; in­stead, spe­cially trained firearms of­fi­cers are rapidly dis­patched to in­ci­dents where a threat is re­ported.

Heav­ily armed po­lice can also be found guard­ing places per­ceived to be likely ter­ror tar­gets, such as air­ports, gov­ern­ment build­ings, and ma­jor rail­way sta­tions.

There is no equiv­a­lent over­all count for the num­ber of times po­lice used firearms in the United States; their use is con­sid­ered rou­tine.

The Home Of­fice notes that the sta­tis­tics do not in­clude so-called “an­i­mal de­struc­tion”, ac­ci­den­tal dis­charge of guns, and – in­trigu­ingly – the shoot­ing out of car tyres in po­lice chases. The num­ber of po­lice of­fi­cers au­tho­rised to use firearms has also been fall­ing in a long-term trend. In 2009 there were 6,906 such spe­cial of­fi­cers in Eng­land and Wales; in March 2016 there were just 5,639, with a de­cline recorded in al­most all in­ter­ven­ing years.

The num­ber of times armed po­lice were ac­tu­ally de­ployed in Eng­land and Wales in the 12 month pe­riod was 12,471 – broadly flat on last year in the con­text of a long-term de­cline. But de­ci­sions on whether to open fire tend to be made through the chain of com­mand, mean­ing even when po­lice with guns ar­rive, a shoot-out is rare.

The United States of course has a big­ger pop­u­la­tion than the UK – Bri­tain has 64.1 mil­lion res­i­dents, the US 319 mil­lion. But on a per-capita ba­sis, Bri­tain’s rate of po­lice gun use would trans­late into US po­lice us­ing their guns on 35 oc­ca­sions in an en­tire year. This would be an un­think­ably low num­ber.

The over­all pic­ture in Bri­tain doesn’t mean po­lice shoot­ing in­ci­dents do not hap­pen. The fa­tal shoot­ing by po­lice of 29-year-old Mark Dug­gan in 2011 prompted an in­quiry and crit­i­cisms of mis­con­duct. The shoot­ing of Jean Charles de Menezes also pro­voked con­tro­versy. Cam­paign­ers have also long high­lighted sta­tis­tics show­ing a pat­tern of deaths in po­lice cus­tody.

But the scale of such killings is un­doubt­edly of a dif­fer­ent or­der to that in the United States.

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