PC Heckler and PC Koch prepare for life on the beat. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.
Let us concede that there may be problems in Brixton, Haringey and Tottenham that demand new approaches from the police. Let us further accept that perhaps there really are "no-go" areas in some of the estates in these boroughs. But even if one takes the police at their word, I think one may still be worried by the news that, for the first time on the British mainland, police officers on routine patrols in parts of London will be armed.
Because will it stop there? How long before there are calls for all police to be armed everywhere they go? The ongoing efforts to paramilitarise the police are not, I think, an encouraging step. Indeed, the lack of an armed constabulary has always seemed one of the encouraging, even optimistic, things that’s very much in this country’s favour.
Alas, that’s unravelling too. Guns grab all the glory but much of the action is elsewhere – not least in the number of Tasers being supplied to officers. It is only a matter of time before one of these things kills someone. Nor, alas, does the record of armed police in this country inspire great confidence that innocent folk won’t be killed by gun-toting police too.
And, of course, it’s not obvious that putting armed police on the streets will persuade would-be miscreants to leave their guns at home. On the contrary it seems more likely to persuade them that they need to carry a weapon.
So perhaps the idea is simply to give the impression of being "tougher" on crime? In other words, it’s a piece of security theatre designed to reassure the public that something is being done.Well, maybe. But the sight of armed police on British streets is an unsettling one (it’s bad enough at airports) and something that risks fostering the impression that everything is out of control, civil war is imminent and we need the comforting presence of an armed, occupying force to keep the peace.
Now maybe things really are tough in Brixton but it’s not Baghdad, is it?
All in all, this does not seem like a Good Idea.
[Hat-tip: Adam Smith Institute.]