By Jason Colmer
In the summer of 2011, London saw the worst riots to ever scar the city, a scar that will be remembered forever. Due to global media platforms, the world saw a new, ugly side to British society and how a single event exposed an unseen vulnerability in the UK police force, more specifically, the treatment officers receive after discharging their firearms.
This report will detail and explore the shock waves police officers in the UK may experience after the legal use of their firearms. This topic has been of intensive debate and controversy due to the sensitivity of Government influence, public opinion and the cases involved.
Facts and Statistics
Stated in the Home office England and Wales Police use of Firearms Statistic Publication April 2015 – March 2016, ‘with a total of 14,753 police firearm operations in 2016, only 7 of those incidents involved a firearm being discharged by police’. A further statistic reveals that there have been 55 fatal police shootings in the UK in the last 24 years compared to 59 fatal police shootings in the first 24 days of 2015 in America. One of these fatal UK shootings is of a man called Mark Duggan.
‘August 4th 2011’
Mark Duggan, the name that arguably began the London riots. Duggan was shot by police in Tottenham, London after he obtained a firearm despite being believed to be responsible of a car park shooting and a suspect for a prior murder investigation, however was not charged based on lack of criminal evidence against him. A brief look into Duggan’s past reveals a life of crime as he was an active member of a gang in one of the ‘most serious criminal networks in Europe‘. Police acted swiftly and took necessary action to prevent a criminal using or distributing an illegal firearm on the streets, however the police involved were largely criticised and blamed for the violent and extensive backlash that was to follow.
The officers involved in the Mark Duggan case should have been hailed heroes for their decisiveness and willingness to act bravely in the face of a dangerous criminal, however they were treated horrendously and suffered a timeline of untold misery at the hands of the press and public. So why are volunteer civil servants such as our police, the ones whom we trust to protect us against criminals and domestic enemies, are treated as criminals themselves?
“You are damned if you do or you don’t”
Sgt Harry Tangye
Sergeant Harry Tangye is a highly-experienced member of the Devon and Cornwall Police. Impressively, he is an ARV sergeant, a Tactics Advisor for firearms and pursuit, an operational firearms commander, a Post–Incident Manager and works VIP protection. During our two separate phone calls, I hoped to gain a better understanding on how police officers are treated post-incident and why this is.
“Officers are often seen as the bad guy” Sgt Tangye described it. ‘You are damned if you do or you don’t’. Further into the interview I asked whether Sgt Tangye has experienced or witnessed any questionable treatment of officers who have been involved in cases where they have had to use their firearms. “Their clothes and equipment are taken away for investigation by the IPCC after a possible long wait in isolation while the detective handles the case as a murder. The officer is given second hand clothes if any are available or made to wait up to 36 hours in the blood-stained uniform they had worn during the incident”. Even though Sgt Tangye does not speak for the whole force, his words do create a clearer image of the frustration officers face while on duty.
History of Police Treatment after the use of Firearms
An example of the treatment officers had received post incident is seen in the shooting of a man named Yassar Yaqub in January 2017. Despite being known to police for drug dealing and being a suspect in a prior murder trial, the father of the victim calls for officers to be held accountable for ‘murder’ and described the incident as a “pre-planned assassination” even though his son was carrying an illegal firearm and deemed a danger to the public and himself. After a drawn-out and highly publicized investigation by the IPCC, all police officers were cleared of misconduct, however, Yaqub’s family and friends still arranged a 200-strong march to the towns police station 5 months after Yaqub’s death.
Another case where police are treated as criminals despite following a legal conduct they believe necessary is that of Jermaine Baker in Wood Green, 2015. Baker was in possession of an “non-police issue firearm” while arranging to assist the escape of a convicted criminal when he was shot through the neck by an armed police officer. The officer was arrested and interrogated immediately. 48 hours later, a criminal homicide investigation was opened. However shortly after the investigation begun, Peter Terry, the Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said “In these difficult circumstances we continue to offer every possible support to the officer, their family and the officers colleagues”. He then went on to say how “all the officers involved were completing a job the senior officers in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had asked of them and how they have a difficult job to do”. The pattern can be seen from previous cases including this one, how officers are publicly treated as criminal by the law and society, only for charges to be dropped. Because of this, police chiefs are beginning to fear that officers will refuse to volunteer to carry a gun to express their disagreement at the treatment of the armed officer. Sgt Tangye backs up this opinion felt in the police force as he says, “the treatment of officers can be deemed inhumane”.
Government Cut Backs and the Policing Community
As well as public opinions, Government influence also play a major role within police treatment. Jamie Grierson for the Guardian states that there has been an ‘excess of 20% in budget cuts’ and emergency calls are being ‘downgraded to ease the pressure on the shortage of officers’. Due to the concerns around budget cuts and the police force being understaffed by up to 20,000 officers, it has been a known fact that the UK policing system cannot keep up with the volume of wanted suspects on UK streets. A resulting factor to the lack of support from the UK Government can create dissatisfaction within the workforce, encouraging officers to feel unfulfilled and unappreciated at work. With the added risk of having their reputation ruined by the hands of the media, it is no surprise that their workload is on the rise. “There is no community anymore” Sgt Tangye says, “We are still human beings, we may have financial issues, family stresses all waiting for us when return home after a day of back to back traumas”.
Rory Geoghegan, a neighbourhood officer, illustrated the lack of support for front line officers when he resigned from the MPS following an incident on patrol in South London where he was shot at. In the article published for the telegraph, Geoghegan said how he ‘loved his job’ and went on to state how officers ‘care hugely about each other in the workforce, what is missing is the support from the organisation itself’. He went on to say how there is a “lack of balance” and how the “elite have little sympathy or understanding of the challenges and reality of policing”.
Based on the evidence given, facts stated and the comments made by a current and former police officer, it is reasonable and appropriate to say that there is a mutually shared belief in the work force, “we are not valued”. The attitudes of the police force currently sit at ‘over worked, under paid and unappreciated’ with some even living in fear that their work duties may ironically cost them their job and possibly their freedom. The UK is a strong, respected and impressive nation boasting some of the worlds most talented and courageous workers, in all aspects, especially in its policing system. Putting their lives on the line when on duty, the British police force deserve respect, national support and the care their organisation is obliged to offer regardless of what their duties may entail.