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.