Professor Peter Squires, who teaches criminology modules on our Law with Criminology degree, was asked to provide evidence and advice to a Ministry of Justice Enquiry panel from Norway.
The panel that was setup to look into the advantages and disadvantages of routinely arming the Norwegian Police Service. This followed Norway’s Utøya shooting massacre in 2011 at which 67 people were killed by a lone gunman, rising concerns about terrorism, attacks on the police and demands from the police union, the Norwegian Government agreed to a two-year pilot experiment in more routinely arming police patrol officers.
The experiment came to an end earlier in the year and a Norwegian panel of experts was established to research the issue. They came to the UK as it is one of few policing systems not to embrace the routine arming of all officers on duty, with a view to compiling evidence for a report to Norway’s Ministry of Justice. Professor Squires, author of a book on police armed response*, was then asked to advise the panel.
The evidence addressed two key issues: whether police officers were any safer when carrying firearms and whether the public was any safer.
Professor Squires advised that although police officers often suggested they felt safer when carrying a firearm and in greater control of situations, there was little evidence to support either perception. In fact, he suggested, carrying a firearm may lead to officers taking greater risks, or practising a more confrontational style of policing. All of which could have quite negative consequences for public and officer safety. As regards the safety of the public, the evidence was even less ambiguous, when police were routinely armed; they used their firearms more frequently (to secure suspect compliance), typically fired them more often and killed and injured more civilians.
Further issues needed factoring into the picture: the ‘gun culture’ of the society itself and the numbers of firearms held by civilians; secondly whether police were trained in a continuum of force options, deploying less lethal technologies first before resorting to firearms; and the extent to which the style of policing reflected principles consent or confrontation (especially as regards the policing experiences of disadvantaged or minority groups).
“A critical issue I tried to impress upon the panel was that the training, to a high professional standard, of an elite group of armed officers is already an expensive option. To try to bring all officers to that same level of professional excellence is well-nigh impossible. Routine arming of all police will almost inevitably dilute the standards of competence and professionalism we associate with specialist armed policing.
“Many of the issues that were relevant to the Norwegian panel we had only recently been discussed in our panel on firearms and public safety at the Australian conference. It was one of those occasions when the academic and the political worlds very closely collide.” Professor Squires
Professor Squires also recently returned from the Australia and New Zealand Annual Criminology conference in Tasmania. You can read his book, Shooting to Kill? Firearms, Policing and Armed Response, published by Wiley/Blackwell (2010).