When I joined the police there were certain essential requirements. If you didn’t fulfil them, no matter how suitable you may have been for the role, you wouldn’t get past the initial selection phase. You had to be a regulation height and eyesight had to be nigh on perfect.
Times have changed. Height is no longer a barrier and corrected eyesight is often acceptable within certain limits.* As I tweeted only a few days ago. I’ve seen 6ft + man mountains turn away from trouble or be reluctant to get stuck in. I’ve also seen the smallest most petite female officer strip a raging man to compliance and shame simply by the use of her tongue. I draw no sexual parallels here only that the qualities we often deemed essential changed, yet the net result was not much different, if at all.
I remember well looking at my shiny ‘loose link’ handcuffs and my polished truncheon on joining. During my initial training I did lots of fitness classes and also qualified in Aikido at entry level. This was a requirement for all officers to ensure they had some basic self defence tactics in their armoury. However, I received only very basic instruction on truncheon and handcuffing techniques. My truncheon ended up bashing the defunct starter motor on many a panda car or to smash windows. As time went on the introduction of better kit ( kwik-cuffs – side handled batons – CS spray ) led to better training and annual refreshers. However increased responsibility came with the baton. The Monadnock PR24 I was issued with was a dangerous piece of kit if misused.
I can remember turning up at the scene of a pub fight just after the batons had been issued. About 6 of us arrived at the same time, jumped out of our respective cars and ‘racked out’ our batons. The fight went out of people straight away and they all left. The response was amazing. Sadly that reaction didn’t last forever. As people become more acclimatised to a piece of equipment we carry it becomes, or seems to become, less of a concern to them. Does violence and aggression rise up to match the more powerful tools the police carry? Is an ever spiralling upwards vicious circle engendered?
It is pretty much accepted that assaults on officers are on the increase. Do we need bigger stronger tools to tackle this and protect officers or are we feeding the fire by doing so? Taser is the latest piece of kit that is being introduced in forces throughout the country. Some would argue that it is unnecessary and should be withdrawn. Others claim it should be limited in circulation to specialist firearms officers. Many officers out there dealing with violent situations are almost demanding it.
Where do we as the police go? The argument of ever increasing violence is strong. We only have to look to America and see how many officers are shot and killed in the line of duty, to realise that officers carrying firearms is no deterrent to the hardened criminal, or one with a determined mindset. Yet the officers in this country are part of society. They run to the danger when others run away. They deserve protection and they need the tools to do that safely; to go home to their families in one piece after their shift.
How do we address this need and do our best to ensure any threat to officers remains low? Ultimately it is difficult because the police, in a violent situation, need to have the upper hand. We have to be seen to win in the public/police v criminality battle. A tough call and one I don’t have an answer to. What I do know is that it’s a catch 22 situation, and we cannot throw police officers to the lions to satisfy a nanny state viewpoint.
I conclude where I started. Many years ago I was shown some video footage from America. Officers were put into a role play scenario and asked to deal as they saw fit. They were presented with a male who just engaged in conversation with them. Suddenly he pulled a knife and attacked the officers. 4 of the 5 videos showed the officers backing off whilst reaching for their sidearm. In this panicked moment of scrabbling for their weapon they were effectively stabbed to death by their rubber knife wielding attacker. The odd one out was the one who used unarmed defence tactics. He tackled the arm with the edge weapon, disarmed and took the aggressor to the floor. He was face down and handcuffed in a flash.
I advocate wider use of Taser. It has very many operational uses and can increase officer safety. It is important to note however that we managed without CS spray until it was introduced. Then it became widely used. We managed without mobile phones and now we can’t do without them.
Taser is an effective tool. Officers are only allowed to use reasonable force in any situation. What they need to remember at every incident, is to not abandon traditional skills in favour of a quicker ( even if justified ) tool, which has been allowed to become commonplace and reached for first.
* I have not researched the current eyesight entry requirements