John Apter, chairman of the Hampshire branch of the Police Federation
Mr Apter’s concerns come at a time when armed officers are under threat from a lack of funding. 1500 ‘new’ firearms officers are being trained, of which 400 are going to ‘cities outside of London’. Should we be scared in Norfolk – could our rural plod cope if there was a terrorist outrage at a power plant?
Norfolk is the fifth largest county in England; it is predominantly rural – very rural. We have a low crime rate. Over 20% of the population is aged 65 or over, 10% over 75.
Yet we already have more armed officers than they do in central Manchester!
One good reason is that we have more ‘royals’ resident in the area than they do in Manchester…some of them, or at least one of them, insist on playing to the peanut gallery, and having a ‘day job’.
Road traffic accidents account for the majority of call outs for the ‘air ambulance’; taking place as they do on remote stretches of highway between towns that are difficult for a normal ambulance to get to quickly. Since for a mere 2.99 you can have an app that tells you when an air ambulance has landed – and that air ambulance lands in a uninhabited spot just by a motorway with a royal at the controls, firearms officers have to be scrambled to the spot to ensure that no terrorist takes a pot shot at the pilot…(no wonder he only flies 30 hours a month).
Since 2012, Norfolk and Suffolk have run a combined ‘Roads policing and Firearms Unit’, with 75% of the 190 officers being armed. Around 140 of them.
Sadly their first priority is Reducing Road Casualties; this area involves Education, Enforcement, Partnership working and other initiatives aimed at ‘preventing death and injury’ on the road.
In other words – they are first and foremost ‘traffic cops’…
Though their firearms capability is kept reasonably busy – shooting two cows in 2014, chasing a teenager with a plastic machete filming for a college project, scrambling to a coach with a ‘suspicious package‘ on board, backed up by a helicopter and ten police cars for a ‘toy gun’, and again with helicopter on comic relief day, scrambled yet again, guarding a cannabis haul.
It costs around £9,000 quid to train each of them for firearms duty initially, (to be followed by regular refresher courses). In order to arrive at traffic cops who can shoot straight at a cow.
I don’t doubt for one moment the courage of armed officers – for each of the farcical events I have referenced could well have been a genuine armed incident where they were required to put their life on the line. They must also face an inquiry each time they do pull their trigger – an inquiry which in the one case of Jermaine Baker did result in the arrest of the officer – though the 28 other ‘fatal’ cases did not.
However, my ire is directed at the Police Federation – raising the spectre of firearms officers, complete with helicopter and multi-vehicles, being unable to scramble to a terrorist event in this particular country would appear to be shroud waving. The 190 strong unit seems to manage just fine.
In between clocking up 36,336 prosecutions for speeding, using a mobile phone, not using a seat belt and drink driving. All those fines!
All perfectly laudable, but I suppose demanding extra expensively trained personnel to catch people ‘using their mobile phones whilst driving’ wouldn’t have the same emotional appeal to the taxpayer wallet…