Yesterday we looked at UK firearms legislation relating to gun controls. We have without question some of the toughest, if not the toughest gun control laws in the world and as a result, gun deaths are very low. Having said that, figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that in the year ending March 2019 a total of 9,787 crimes involving guns took place. Over the past five years, offences involving a firearm have also increased by 27%. It could therefore be argued that in relative terms, the UK has an increasing problem with illegal firearms getting into the country. In 2019, 33 people died as a result of gun crime, these were disproportionately concentrated in the 15 to 34 age group and the crimes were largely limited to larger urban areas.
Even with very tight gun control measures, you will still see gun related crime, which is directly connected to imported illegal firearms. This goes to my point that where there are guns, there is trouble. In response, all society can do, is to be vigilant and expend effort to combat illegal firearms. Nobody can argue with the logic that if you don't have access to a gun you can't shoot someone. The problem the US faces, is that there are more guns than people. With an estimated 400 million in circulation in 2020, I think you can safely say that ups the risk of being shot by one.
One thing that is a problem in the UK however, is knife crime. There were 45,627 offences involving knives or sharp instruments recorded by police in 2019, this was a 7% rise year on year, and 49% higher than 2011 when comparable records began. These offences have continued to be concentrated in metropolitan areas across England and Wales, with about a third of all the offences recorded in London, which saw a 5% increase. The West Midlands, which covers Birmingham, recorded an increase of 13%. In separate Home Office statistics, the proportion of recorded offences that resulted in a charge or summons, fell from 8.3% to 7.1% in 2019. In the year ending March 2019 there were 259 homicides (currently recorded) using a sharp instrument, including knives and broken bottles, accounting for 39% of all homicides – a decrease from the 285 recorded in the year ending March 2018.
I think that what I'm trying to say, is violent crime is part of every modern society and where there are no guns to kill people, some will find other ways to commit homicide. The big challenge for any government, is the balance of how to maintain law and order in a democratic free society. My occasional interactions with police have always been positive, but as a white man, many would argue that I have not seen the darker side of policing. Stats clearly indicate that 'driving whilst black', even in the UK, makes it more likely you will be subject to a traffic stop. The interesting thing is, traffic stops are not routinely recorded, so data on ethnicity is not available. You can draw your own conclusions from this, but speak to any black person in the UK and it's evident you are far more likely to be the subject of a traffic stop if you are black.
It is estimated that in relation to stop and search on the street, you are up to 10 times more likely to be stopped if you are black. If you would like to take a closer look at the UK stop and search stats just click here. We have to conclude therefore, in a predominantly white population racial bias is systemic, regardless of where you live. The next determinate factor appears to be the level of nationalist sentiment in the country. Again, we are back to the tribal nature of our species.
If we accept that some sort of racial bias is inevitable, then the next thing to consider in terms of effective policing, is training. There are some great articles around looking at various aspects of training and the wider implications of police reform. I found this piece in the Atlantic by Yaseem Serhan, I thought was interesting and well worth a read. It is very easy to start critiquing the police in the US and point at so called training time deficiencies as compared to other countries. However, you have to be very careful not to use literal differences, because they the become an inaccurate reflection of reality.
The major problem in trying to assess police training in the US, is the decentralised nature of law enforcement. There are no real nationwide benchmarks in operation, so it's almost impossible to compare say a UK national police service, with the myriad of local police services in the US. For me, it all starts in the recruitment process. In the UK, that begins with an understanding of a competency and values framework It's very difficult for me to make direct comparisons with US recruitment and training because it varies so much. Hence I find it somewhat annoying that Twitter posts seem obsessed with wanting to paint a picture that US police are trained for a few weeks and then sent out to shoot people. My intent here is to share with you aspects of UK police training, so you might compare it to your locality.
To join the UK police force there are a number of routes. Whilst there is no requirement to have a degree, if you are not a graduate, you will have to navigate your way through an apprenticeship that will in the end lead to a degree level qualification. Here you will find a list of routes to enter law enforcement. Regardless of your chosen option, it will take 2-3 years before you are fully qualified, but this will NOT allow you to carry a firearm. The authorised use of firearms, requires an officer to be selected for specialist training and this article from Police College will provide you with a broad picture of requirements and competencies. If selected, an armed response officer is subjected to a 12 weeks intensive training course after which, if successful, they will be assigned to an armed response team. Below is a segment from an article in 'Devon Live' from ARV officer Sgt Harry Tangye, just to give you a first hand feel for the role:
"..You will still undertake incredibly stressful training and pressurised re-qualification shoots, four days every six weeks, however count that as every five weeks from the end of one to the beginning of the other. The pressure never ceases, and that’s ignoring the fact you may wish to become a pursuit tactics advisor, a Firearms Tactics Advisor, an Operational Firearms Commander or a VIP officer. The refresher training is relentless, but so, so rewarding."
As previously stated, it would be unfair and disingenuous to compare policing methods between the US and the UK, simply because the level of threat US law enforcement faces from the volume of guns on the street. However, observations and research lead me to believe that there is a definite lack of de-escalation employed in many of the high profile shootings of young black men in particular. Just by way of contrast, here are the recent de-escalation guidelines published for UK police. There is absolutely no question that US police officers have a challenging job and that their families face the real possibility every day, that they may not come home that evening.
After event commentary is easy, you can rewind footage, slow it down, take time to analyse what should have happened and how you should have dealt with it if you had time to think. Unfortunately, real life is not a video game. Often, events are instantaneous and split second decisions have to be made that can result in the loss of life and a lifetime of wondering 'was I right to do that?' From a purely objective standpoint, I think that training appears on the surface to be grossly inadequate. Also, what appears to be a shift towards more military style training of police officers, is completely the wrong step. Military training is by its very nature adversarial, whereas what is required in policing, is more a 'serve and PROTECT' mentality.
One big danger that the US faces right now, is that the constant attacks on police painting them all as racist thugs, is extremely counter productive. It might make for a great soundbite or a great social media post. However, ask yourself this. What if you are an excellent police officer who upholds all the values that the profession demands? How would you feel about the constant attacks on your profession? The end result, is a shortfall in police recruitment, lots of experienced officers deciding to take early retirement and then what? You have no option but to lower the competence bar for new recruits, adding more of the people you are complaining about to their ranks. I have no problem sacking bad police officers, it should be a number one priority, but PLEASE DO NOT paint them all as bad, it's counter productive and will further damage already demoralised law enforcement.
There seems to me little doubt that racism is endemic in US policing and that is not something you can change overnight. There needs to be federally mandated standards for recruitment and accountability built into policing and until this is in place, little will change. This means sadly, many more young black men will die at the hands of police officers and that is a BIG problem for unity in communities.