Friday, 23 January 2009

They've Given Her a Gun (at last)

During my time as an armed officer and with tactical firearms units (that's `SWAT` or similar acronyms, to any US readers) women were noticeable by their absence. The resistance to female officers joining these specialist teams was considerable, emanating primarily from senior officers including those in charge of the units. Let me state from the outset that I had no real views on this at the time, as I simply wanted to get on with my job, train hard and become as competent as I could be in the multitude of tasks I was expected to fulfill. If the person covering the doorway I was about to step quickly through was male, female or something in between, I wouldn't be bothered as long as they were on the ball and on my side. When I joined the police, female officers had their own, quite separate, department so I wasn't used to seeing them patrolling the streets. Of course this changed almost overnight, around mid 1976 I bel;ieve, when in the wake of legislation, the Policewomens Department was disbanded and suddenly my shift had a female officer parading with us at what was, for her, the unearthly hour of 10pm. Previously they didn't work shifts so it was as much a shock for her as it was a surprise for us. Latterly as a Tactical Firearms Team member it became clear, to even the most resistant, that women would be most useful, especially as we started to do more and more u/c work where it was essential not to show out. For something like a counter terrorist job, e.g. trying to deploy inconspicuously, where the band of the Coldstream Guards (God bless `em) were playing at a public event that was tipped as a possible hit by the IRA, was not easy. Pairs of fit blokes in loose fitting T shirts that concealed self loading pistols and a radio tended to show out a bit and the British public in `military towns` were switched on to security and would report us as suspects. If they were spotting this, then so were the opposition who were very surveillance conscious. Now, you deploy a man and a woman strolling around said location, and immediately they would blend more easily into a public venue. That's just one example but you get my argument. When I found myself in a stronger position to argue for some pro-active recruiting of female officers for armed duties I got these responses (my replies are in italics): "Their hands are too small for the self loading pistols". "Well we'll get them pistols with smaller grips". "Well it means the armourer will have to maintain a different weapon". "Isn't that his job?". "Our flameproof coveralls mean women won't be able to take a quick leak". "If YOU wanted to take a number 2 you'd have to strip down just the same, so maybe we ought to get two piece suits or get the suppliers to modify the bottom half anyway". And so it continued. I doubt the same arguments will apply now, especially as TASER is being rolled out across the UK for issue to all frontline officers. No excuses for small feminine hands now, eh? Eventually, female officers started to apply to the Tac' Teams, but in very small numbers. A reminder for any US folks reading this; It is not a condition of police service that you must carry a firearm at some time and its only Armed Response Vehicle* and Tactical Team officers who are always armed and who volunteered for this duty, representing a very small percentage of their respective police force. However, I see from the attached article of less than 2 years ago, that some years after I left all this malarkey behind me it's still a problem and I don't think it would have been helped by what seemed to be some slightly condescending comments in the said attached article. * The Metropolitan Police ARV's are deployed to approx 1000 gun related calls per month but unarmed officers are often the ones that get there first or are unexpectedly confronted by these threats. Since posting this article I have had quite a few enquiries about recorded figures for firearms offences. This link shows the Metropolitan (London) Police crime figures, including those they term gun enabled crimes. They are for recorded crimes and as such may well differ from figures recorded by other surveys such as The British Crime Survey.


Lakeland Jo said...

thanks for visiting my blog- yours is really informative and I will come back again

Hogday said...

Thank you Jo. Ditto you and yours.

Annette said...

It's about time policewomen were given the same opportunites as the men.
I have never heard such silly and pathetic arguments against women.
'Theirs hands are too small....'
Such insults.
I am also glad that policewomen are now given the same uniform as men.When they used to wear skirts, they looked like office girls not police women.
Of course they can do arms, the same as yourself and any male officer.

Hogday said...

Thanks for your comments Annette, I quite agree. The job has changed much during the time I was in, but at times, faced with some of those rubbish comments/attitudes that I quoted, I often wondered if it was me who was out of step? I know some of my colleagues probably did.

Area Trace No Search said...

Well written as always.

I know the met is pushing for more female AFOs, but there's still a definite separation in what careers men and women choose to follow in the job.

Area Trace No Search said...

Annette - incidentally, some female officers still wear skirts operationally, and many have their skirts for formal occasions.

However, now it is a matter of personal choice most of the time.

Hogday said...

Thanks ATNS. I'm a few yrs out but it sounds the same old same old.

Hogday said...

Annette, re ATNS's re skirts, that's quite right. In my final 10 yrs most female officers didn't wear skirts. Prior to, I once saw a `southern city` female officer (a bit of a legend in her own tights)with skirt hoiked up to her waist in order to chase and catch a local thief through a crowded precinct. I arrived in answer to her assist call just as she brought him to the ground. The crowd that gathered didn't exactly go wild, as they were all open-mouthed.

Nota Bene said...

mmm, very interesting how quickly the world's right to treat men and women police equally, and I guess soon we'll think 'How quaint' when we look back...

Annette said...

I have got a sense of humour and I can just picture that! But, you see, that is what I mean, policewomen in skirts? Totally inappropriate for the work they are doing. Also when you think about it,their clothing gave them no protection.

Hogday said...

True Annette. Even getting in and out of a Transit van was a ridiculously awkward thing to do in a skirt. I know, I've been to a Rocky Horror Show! ;)

Cst KO said...

HOg....DO officers not wear guns when patroling the streets over there? DO u have to have a specail job to wear a gun?

Hogday said...

Hi Kenny, Less than 10% of UK police are trained to use firearms although those figures can vary. Eg In a force with an establishment of say 3,300 (from the chief down to the newest recruit)you would probably have around 120 trained to use firearms, mainly constables and sergeants. That's likely to be a Tactical Team of around 40 and Armed Response Vehicle crews (you would have perhaps 3 ARV's on duty 24/7 - 2 officers per unit although big cities* would put out a few more, but probably still in single figures). The rest would be specialist close protection officers, maybe 8 or 10, who could be supplemented by the Tactical Team. In a nutshell, most of the British police officers on patrol, right now, are only armed with ASP, CS and cuffs, although Taser is now being rolled out across the country to all, but that may take some time to have every officer so equipped. Every firearms incident, once confirmed, will be attended by a qualified Tactical Adviser although this does not prevent those on the scene from doing what they perceive is necessary.

* My old force The Metropolitan, London, is a force of about 31,000 officers. The ARV's probably deal with over 3000 calls to firearms related incidents per year but these are `spontaneous` incidents and doesn't include pre-planned tactical team call outs. Busy busy busy.But we can shoot real good! lol. Every tac firearms officer in my old force had to requal every 8 weeks on handgun and semi auto carbine. Very vigorous physical tests every couple of months, psych assesments, etc. Various weapons, HK53's 9mm slp's p/a shotguns, baton guns, barricade busting, hostage rescue, surveillance etc. The selection process is vigorous and extremely searching and thorough.

Come to the UK and you WILL see armed police officers, but they will be in the minority and on specific tasks like airport security, protection duties or armed response vehicles, but none on routine patrol. An ARV has an awesome selection of kit on board and, corny as it may sound, I was proud as punch of our guys. I would say that our teams are up there with the best.

TheBronze said...

"* The Metropolitan Police ARV's are deployed to approx 1000 gun related calls per month but unarmed officers are often the ones that get there first or are unexpectedly confronted by these threats."

HD, I thought guns were illegal to own in the UK? Why so many gun calls?

Hogday said...

Hey Bronze, welcome. nice to see you over here. I am no longer serving with the Met, a force of some 33,000 officers, but their website is pretty good for info, although like most police websites can be a little heavy on the feel-good propaganda.
The high volume of calls can range from `kids seen in a park with what looked like a gun`, `a guy in a pub who was seen to have what looked like a gun in his belt` right up to armed robbery or gang/drug/turf disputes with shots fired, occasionally from automatic weapons. There are quite a few Mac 10's and Eastern European machine pistols in circulation over here, plus a booming trade in reactivated de-activated firarms and converted replicas - I know this for a fact as a result of my previous work and contacts in the business (don't ask).

And yes, its true, an unarmed unit will often be deployed in the first instance to these calls, especially as ARV's are not out there in large numbers.

Thank God we don't have 75+ million handguns in the hands of the public like the US does, or there would be no way we could hang on to being probably the last country with a predominantly unarmed police force. Our gun laws are probably the toughest in the world. After our last massacre incident (Google `Dunblane Shooting`) knee-jerk legislation banned all handguns from private ownership, along with pump action shotguns and self loading rifles with more than 2 round mags. Mace/OC etc is classed as a prohibited weapon. The bottom line is that even our Olympic Pistol Shooting Team has to leave the country to train with handguns. Criminals, however, still have their guns. Funny old world eh?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this........... Amazing what has evolved in the Police Dept's around the world. Thank goodness they understand us females can do the job like men.....

I belonged to tact and gang teams, and at one time the most elite unit in Chicago PD....... SOS is what it was called.... It was an honor and alot of fun at the same time.

stay safe out there.

TheBronze said...


Glad to be here. Nice blog. I'll stop by more regularly.

My point (which I'm sure you got) was that, despite firearms being illegal in the UK, inexplicably, criminals still have them. Just like here.

Gun-control is a dismal failure. Gun-control only keeps guns out of the hands of the good-guys, not the bad-guys. That's why they're called criminals. They don't obey the law.

Maybe you Brits will figure it out someday, like the majority of states have here in the U.S. When people have greater access to self-defense (self-defence for you Brits!), crime goes down. Places (cities/states) with more regulated (or an outright ban) firearms laws have more crime.

It's a fact.

Hogday said...

Thanks CPDC` and Bronze for your chip-in. I won't get started on the gun debate as i have to walk the dog! However, I will say that it is true that the criminals have the guns but fortunately only tend to use them on each other - at the moment. That said, we do have armed robberies where innocent mops get shot and killed, the most recent in Oxford where a village post office was hit and the proprietors son was shot and killed. (I believe they used an Uzi !).

Personally, I think we are clinging on to remaining a fully un-armed service. I expect the next phase in the ratcheting up, will be an increase in ARV's to speed up the response, but time is tight. I attended hundreds of armed incidents and operations in my time, both as a routime patrol officer and a firearms team member and I always felt far safer in the latter role. I used to tell my former wife, when my beeper called me out, `Don't worry, all the risky stuff happens before I get there`. Obviously I was being re-assuring for her but I genuinely felt and still do, that the ordinary patrol officers were at far greater risk that I was, in my ARV or tac team. By the time I arrived, I had my kit, my excellent training, my team members, tactical skills, the full monty. When the UK police does go fully armed, it will still need the tac teams. The personal issue weapon will be for personal defence as they just won't be able to allocate the training time to every officer beyond basic shooting skills and a tiny bit of tactics. That, I guess, is no different to the US?

Hogday said...

PS To Bronze's comment; "Maybe you Brits will figure it out someday, like the majority of states have here in the U.S. When people have greater access to self-defense".

On the money there Bronze. I `figured it out` shortly after I joined and lost a close friend whose killers got 9 yrs and were out in 4.

In my then local high crime area with lots of robbery and burglary with knives or a gun, I had my p/a shotgun (used for clay busting) ready and loaded indoors, with a tube full of No.7 - but I was also equipped with the right answers and circumstances if I'd ever had to use it. I was as apprehensive of the law and how it would deal with my use of force in my own home, as I was of the theiving bastards who were trying to violate it.

NB: Since the Dunblane massacre, pump action shotguns are now also prohibited under UK law unless restricted to 2 rounds.

TheBronze said...

HD, there's no reason the Met can't get/keep ALL of its officers trained/proficient in firearms use.
The NYPD/LASO/LAPD (and other large U.S. dept's) are able to, so I'm sure the Met can too.

Personally, I think you lot are daft for working without one (a gun). Now a days, that only speaks to the denial of the Met's leaders to recognize the danger its officers are in.

Hogday said...

Hiu Bronze,
yes I agree with you. Any police force could train up all of its officers in handguns, whilst retaining its Tactical Teams and ARV for pre-planned jobs.

As a firearms officer I was required to requalify once a month which is a very high drain on resources if that were expected of every officer. Obviously, the police would not have the training time to allocate and would therefore have to accept a lower standard across the board to what they currently have with their firearms officers.

When I did some shooting with the Flint Mi Police they couldn't believe the high standard I shot to, until I told them I was swat equivalent. Their Tactical team guys were very good too and we shot to the same standard on a variety of weapons and different shoots, but they made the same point, that an ordinary patrol officer only has to requal once a year and it was incumbent upon them to maintain their skills by regular range practice, but not compulsory. Has it changed much?

Re your last point; I hear what you say and understand fully. I think the politicians and senior police are all hoping they won't have to be the ones to take that decision. It will most likely happen piecemeal, like it is at the moment. A creeping process. I know that the Met have much more kit than they need for their current firearms officer establishment (don't ask how) but as things stand they are just watching and waiting.

As a footnote, I felt safer with the Flint and Detroit police than I did on some saturday nights in my own home town.

Vetnurse said...

The problem with everyone owning guns as in USA is that unlike police they do not need to pass tests and prove anything.
I would rather bring back gun ownership as it was in uk before one person went screwball, not the full on every man, woman, child and their gun in usa.

TheBronze said...

HD, it runs the gamut here in the US.
Some dept's only have their officers qualify annually or semi-annually and some dept's do it 4-6 times per year. It just depends on the dept.

Hogday said...

Right on Vetnurse. When I was in Michigan in the 80's I could walk into a Woolies store and buy a .270 Wetherby Rifle, 3000 rounds of ammunition and walk down the street with it. No i/d req'd, no licence, just Visa! A handgun would've taken 24 hrs. In the UK as you know, the requirements are rather more stringent!

Post Dunblane laws threw out the baby with the bathwater.