Monday, 7 June 2010

We've been here before...and before....and the time before that

The good people of UK Plc have had a few days to mull over the Cumbria tragedy. For 99.999% of them, it has left their consciousness, only to be jerked back by sporadic news items that may contain a bit of `drama` to nudge it past the news sub-editors desk as the post incident investigation proceeds on its labourious path. There will, of course, be no trial of the perpetrator but there will be inquests and enquiries to bring it all back. This may lead to trials of a different nature, for we need answers and someone or something to blame beyond the lunatic who pulled the trigger. Only for those with intimate connections will life never be the same again. The 99.999% of us can count ourselves lucky.

 I've scanned a few of my favourite police-flavoured blogs and left a few comments here and there over the Cumbria homicides. Because of my background in police firearms training and operations I've tended to comment where I've found questions about the police response to such incidents. One comment I spotted just a short while ago prompted me to jot these thoughts down. It was from `Notts Sarge` over at PC Ellie Bloggs's place. It was particularly poignant for me, as a few years ago, in a previous job, I viewed a short, jerky piece of cctv footage of a foot chase that resulted in a young policewoman being shot in the stomach by a young man armed with a 9mm pistol, of the type I used to be issued with. It happened in the blink of an eye, even when run in slow-motion and it was shocking in its simplicity. Practically no one reading this will know about it or what happened to that brave officer. This is what `Notts Sarge` said:

Here, all incidents involving weapons are automatically referred to 'Top Desk' i.e. the Control Room Insp and/or a civilian manager.
Firstly, I don't want tactical decisions making by someone who is not a cop, has never been a cop and only knows vicariously, through the power of CCTV, policy and, of course, hindsight, just what we might be going into.
I'm equally uncomfortable putting my welfare, and that of the public, in the hands of an Insp who may or may not have previous firearms experience, may be in a non-combatant post for any number of reasons and who may or may not be more worried about what damage it would do to their career if they dropped a bollock over a firearms incident.
The Gold/Silver/Bronze heirarchy is fine, but if you accept that Police Officers are trained professionals, they need to allowed to exercise that professional judgement.
I'm with Ellie on this - keep ARVs out there with at least a sidearm at all times. Keep a locked gun safe in the cars so there is always the option available.
As we travel further down the road of risk aversion, we expose the public and ourselves to greater danger while someone makes a decision in the Force Control Room (or not as the case may be).
If you want me to protect life and property, I'd like the tools to do the job please.

If Pc Bloggs permits, my comment will be seen after this very apt and totally relevant comment from a frontline leader of police officers. 

The debate about arming all UK police officers routinely will continue to rumble on. There will never be a 100% agreement, because whatever happens will never provide a 100%  solution, such are the vagaries of life, the universe and everything.  I have written about this before, some 16 months ago. Here is what I said. The weapons described are different from those used in Cumbria, but believe me when I say that the problems faced and the potential options proffered are precisely the same.


MPS Probbie said...

Your previous posts remain an excellent read.

Hot on the heels of the De Menzies debacle the Met invited lots of journos to CO19 to see aspects of the training.

There was a very telling video on the BBC website of two of Fleet Street's finest being given a run on one of the firearms simulators, on a fairly standard scenario. Both of them whipped out their Glocks and rippled off shots within seconds, like a scene from Omaha beach - before being challenged and ripped to shreds on their trigger-happiness by the '19 Guvnor.

Not so easy eh lads, even in a simulation?

Hogday said...

Thanks Probbie. I did something similar when I took over weapons training, but I invited all the Coroners - I figured they'd be more use than journo's :) Walk carefully out there ;)

Stressed Out Cop said...

How can you be prepared for something like Cumbria?

Spinning the wheel is OK but when the wheel comes off - it comes down to the good guy/gal with the gun doing the necessary to protect life.

Accountability - it appears rests with the Tactical Firearms commander. In amongst all of that chaos you're expected to write everything down .. like some cool hand luke.

Hands up who wants to be a TFC? I've met "Silver" on the big one and he is a cool hand luke .. everything by the book. That was a pre-planned job - the rest of us could be in the same position on a spontaneous.

Is the TFC the scacrificial scapegoat in waiting? I think so -feel for them.

Hogday said...

Stressedout: With you on those comments. All the planning, dotting of i's and crossing of t's, `what if's` and maybe's have their place, but the over-riding factor will always come down to the perceptions of the officer with the option of deadly force in his/her hands at the crucial moment. Too many chiefs approach this like it's a table-top exercise, rather than the dynamic thing growing arms and legs in real time and the front line decisions that it will demand at the most unexpected of moments. The `long screwdriver` of interference from a distance is too late. Once the policy has been set and agreed and disseminated, you are in the hands of the troops, who should be the best you've got. They in turn deserve the best managers who are there for them before, during and, most of all, afterwards when the blamers turn up for work.

JuliaM said...

" Too many chiefs approach this like it's a table-top exercise, rather than the dynamic thing growing arms and legs in real time..."

A wise man once said 'No plan survives contact with the enemy'...

JuliaM said...

"...but I invited all the Coroners - I figured they'd be more use than journo's.."

Ah, but were they better shots..? ;)

Hogday said...

JuliaM: 1. Yes, that was Napoleon I believe! 2. Yes, they hit all the journo's as requested ;)

Anonymous said...

Most complex situations have no 100% solution, but surely we could be better prepared for incidents like this one. My fear is less about one man gone nutter incidents, but the potential of terrorist threats. There is no answer, as Probbie succinctly points out in giving the untrained guns, whether cops or not. I would say though, that I'd want any jury reviewing incidents I was involved in to have experienced simulation. Most can't even be trusted to know enough even of general fight and arrest situations.
NI reminded me to some degree of the quiet market town I did my probation in - with guns!
You're on the mark here Hog. Maybe a rifle with ammunition that stops in what it hits, locked in a box in the boot of every other car would be enough. One thing that does strike me is that the relevant training for all officers would help in protecting them generally in weapons incidents. This might have saved lives in Cumbria.
I actually believe that armed police might now increase our civil rights.
The lack of accountability at Stockwell is shaming, but so was the focus on the lads stoked with adrenaline who actually fired after the multiple blunders by the SMT clowns swanning about. I despise the cover-up but also feel Stressed's concerns. Accountability has become so mired in daftness we are reduced to truth only emerging in glimpses from undercover cameras and blogging!
There are now more guns at Manchester Airport than the police owned nationally when this old crock plodded a beat.

MPS Probbie said...

I've posted elsewhere that if arming were introduced most concerns about suitability could be alleviated by dishing out tickets in the same way as driving/L2 public order/search teams etc.

Extra assessment, fitness and medical requirements, extra training, regular refreshers.

That means those who have an aversion to carrying won't be forced to, and those who are wholly unsuited will find it harder to.

That said, our recruitment process should be screening these people out anyway, as an ASP in the hands of a burly thug could be as lethal as a Glock; if they're thugs they'll be thugs with anything to hand.

Hogday said...

Thanks for chipping in again (big chip-in, too, Archy). Your comment, "Maybe a rifle with ammunition that stops in what it hits, locked in a box in the boot of every other car would be enough", is probably the next logical move. We need a fully armed police force (every now and then - and the now's are overtaking the then's).

I hate starting a comment from the armchair with `if I was in charge....` like some irritating Harry Enfield character, so I won't because I'm not BUT, if a ready supply of carbines or even shotguns (a much maligned but highly effective piece of kit) plus appropriate ammunition together with the availability of officers authorised to use them was quickly on scene, then so many more tactical options would have been available, but years ago someone cut the numbers of `AFO ordinaire's` that used to be available. If we threw in a good supply of ballistic shields then they would have the makings to provide some tactical protection to paramedics to enter unsecured areas and rescue the wounded, let alone nail the loon. This kit would have to be available within minutes of the incident (yes, back we go to local armouries), as would the officers qualified to use them, with obvious implications (I can hear the cries from hear, "££ HOW much??!! ££"). As you probably know, there is far more skill required to shoot a handgun, but accuracy and other handling requirments take far less with longarms. QED:I once had `little old ladies in zimmer frames` fire a police carbine (MP5) and hit a target at 50 metres in the range. Justification training and tactics is incremental, but we are not asking everyone to be up to hostage rescue standards here. My basic pistol course was completed in 5 days in the 70`s FFS! To those who say they don't want to see armed plod 24/7 (and one could argue this is not unreasonable in many areas) this has merit. To those who demand better, swifter protection/retribution, this is close to a compromise.

If this isn't the next step, I wonder what the hell is, because this is simple - sorry police accountants, but you'll still have to get the gold credit card out or, brace yourselves, cut out some `diversity/inclusivity implementation units` and all the other drossmire that your frontline-focussed officers resent and despise.

The capabilities of this `emergency team` would not be sky high and their tactical options would be constrained by kit and training, but to the folks hiding in fear of their lives and the poor defenceless cops trying to do something for them it's a godsend, like saying `well you're bleeding badly so you can have an advanced first aider now, or a consultant in emergency medicine in 2 hours` - no brainer which one they'd want.

To the Health and Safety handwringers I'd say, "We'll do our very best, but this is already f'ing dangerous".

It's not the Rolls Royce solution, but times is hard so it's the old Morris Thousand, but it will get us where we need to go until the de-luxe teams arrive on the plot to share the blame.

Blue Eyes said...

Surely if everyone in the whole country (including kids) had a gun then the bad guys could never threaten anyone. And we wouldn't need prisons, either.

Hogday said...

Blue, have you been over on a gun ho blog again?

Blue Eyes said...

Nah, just Gadget's!

Blue Eyes said...

ps on a serious note the idea of arming "normal" frontline coppers appals me because:

1) this is a generally gun-free country - if the police are supposed to be ordinary citizens upholding the law by consent then handing out guns like confetti rather begs the question: why aren't citizens allowed to carry them either?

2) there are enough idiots in the police to make routine arming incredibly dangerous - it wouldn't take many accidents to bring the whole service into disrepute

3) in the US, many, many officers get injured by their own guns when they are grabbed by criminals. Do we really want to see a massive increase of police injuries?

Hogday said...

Blue: Providing we only throw confetti at the weddings I am very sympathetic to your sentiments, speaking as someone who saw himself as a pacifist, for as long as it was safe to remain so.

JuliaM said...

The problem I have with this issue being used to shoehorn in a debate about arming the police is the unspoken (and sometimes spoken!) assumption that with it, this will never happen again'.

That has been the unsaid assumption in the release of the reports that police were able to see but not confront him because they were unarmed. And some have seized on this, and saddled their hobbyhorse with it.

Well, in Florida a man walked into a restaurant and carried off a mini-massacre. Plenty of armed cops, and Florida has very liberal gun laws, and it didn't stop this happening. Nothing would.

Hogday said...

JuliaM: Correct. Its a balancing act. The police in the UK need to be fully armed, every now and then, very quickly indeed and the way must be found to do this, that will satisfy the requirements. I was trained up to pretty much the highest level in my day. With that training in mind I look at `Cumbria` and know I would not have wanted to conduct search operations for that man without being armed and if that's how I felt, I wouldn't want my officers to do it either, but they did. Once he was caught and neutralised, I'd be happy to cycle off around the highways and byeways with just my CS gas and baton ratting on my belt giving me backache. If the public/political debate deemed that I should thereafter carry a firearm permanently, I would have done so although I know many would seek employment elsewhere. I agree that there are many who are shoehorning agendas into this whole issue. Everyone has to agree on a level of acceptable risk but also level of response they are prepared to accept from the agencies employed to protect them - and here we deal with that intangible called `perception`.

Hogday said...

Well that was an interesting flurry of debate. And now its back to topless darts from Roehampton.

Blue Eyes said...

Ooh Roehampton!