Should the English police carry and use firearms?
This essay explores the debate whether the English police carry and use firearms? It is a debate that has been a focal point in the public, policing agency, government and political arenas since the formation of the police. The English police are well known for their ‘unarmed’ tactic of policing and are only a few police forces worldwide that do so. It was this model of policing that Sir Robert Peel tried to distill from when he first formed the Metropolitan Police back in 1829, which as England as a country keeps to its traditions. However, due to increase in gun crime and terrorist attacks it is perhaps maybe time that the English police force kept up with an ever sophisticated and armed criminal/terrorist. In this essay the main themes I will focus on will be the background of the police, British models of policing, for and against armed response and the level of gun crime in the UK. The term ‘police’ derived from the Greek word ‘politeia’ meaning government or state. ‘Police’ refers to a social institution that most modern societies have to ensure social control. In modern society there is an ideological assumption that the police are a fundamental part of social control and without them there would be chaos (Reiner 2000, p1), however not every society has existed with a formal police force. The role of the police in its efforts for the control of crime and maintaining order is one that has changed through history and is an area of great debate in their effectiveness and the functions the police have in modern society. The police in modern society are called upon routinely to perform a wide range of tasks from public reassurance to terrorism and respond to emergencies, critical incidents and crises, many with an element of social conflict (Grieve et al. 2007, p19). A state run police organisation is a modern form of ‘policing’ (Reiner 2000,p2), however ‘policing’ is a different idea to that of the ‘police’. Understanding the function and role of the police requires consideration to the ideology of policing. The concept of policing can be defined as ‘the function of maintaining social control in society’ (Reiner 2000, p3). Policing can be carried out by an array of people and techniques of which the modern idea of the police is one. The police as a specialised institution of social control are seen as a product of the division of labour in modern societies and can be distinguished from other types of policing by their ability to use legitimate force. In modern democracy the police are both the symbolic ‘front’ of the state’s authority and responsible for the protecting individual and collective freedoms (Neyroud & Beckley 2008, p21). In the UK policing is seen to be ‘by consent’ rather than a state run military model, thus its success is dependent on public co-operation and approval than fear (Grieve et.al 2007, p19). The English police force is only a number of police forces in the world were firearms are not routinely carried by all officers. It has kept in accordance to when they were first formed in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, after the Metropolitan Police Act was passed by parliament. Upon the forming of on Metropolitan police force (1829), Sir Robert Peel’s intention was that the police’s role was for the prevention of crime. Efforts were made so that the new police did not look like soldiers, where Sir Robert Peel tried to avoid accusations of setting up a continental system of ‘agents’ like the French model of policing. The police weaponry was limited to a wooden truncheon, though cutlasses were available for emergencies and for patrolling dangerous beats and inspectors and above could carry pocket pistols (Emsley 1996, p26). The decision not to arm the Metropolitan Police in 1829 was intentional. The use of force used by the police was only to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion,...
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