We need proper constables – not these swaggering gunmen

Peter Hitchens — Daily Mail May 20, 2018

Armed police at Victoria Station, London. Keeping the public safe from "terror" and "hate crime", but not necessarily from rape, burglary and common assault. Click to enlarge

Armed police at Victoria Station, London. Keeping the public safe from “terror” and “hate crime”, but not necessarily from rape, burglary and common assault. Click to enlarge

The mere sight of an armed police officer in this country makes me instantly furious and miserable. Sometimes I just have to look away, while I collect myself. Then I hurry off, as fast as I can.

This is instinctive and emotional. But it is not irrational. The reasons for it run deep. I was brought up in a country which was actively proud that its police were not armed.

Now I am told that rural police are to be armed on the excuse that this will guard our shires against terrorism. It is a pretext. It just means that, like everywhere else, our police will routinely have firearms. This will be the end of Britain as it was.

We used to think that other, less happy nations might need to use guns to keep order. We did not. And for many years I returned from travels abroad and rejoiced at this difference between my home and foreign lands.

As George Orwell said, the beer was bitterer and the coins were heavier. And the police were different. They weren’t the unapproachable scowling army of the state, they were the police of a free, peaceful population, our allies against crime and disorder.

Then, after an especially long stint overseas, I came back, looked for the familiar constables I was used to, and I found that we now had cops instead. It was the beginning of one of the most profound changes in our society that has ever taken place, one about which we were not consulted, and which was never openly discussed.

They stopped walking, except occasionally in pairs. They zoomed about in cars, they wore flat caps and big boots, handcuffs, clubs and a mass of ironmongery hung from their big belts. And, affected by this transformation, they had begun to swagger and scowl as well. No wonder. All this clattering stuff said clearly that they did not like or trust the public any more.

Bit by bit it grew worse. Even in my peaceful hometown, I began to see cops with sub-machine guns standing grimly outside court buildings. The flat caps gave way to baseball caps.

And in the capital, I learned to expect to see armed officers, on the excuse (which I think is thin) that they are guarding embassies and other sensitive buildings. If the threat is really that great, then the Army should guard them. If not, then taking police constables away from their real jobs, and employing them as sentries, should end.

People will tell me that ‘lives would have been saved’ if armed police officers had been present at some recent supposed terrorist incidents. But my researches show that almost all these events were the work of deranged individuals out of their minds on drugs. The fast-spreading abuse of drugs is, pretty certainly, the main single reason for the much higher levels of violence we now have.

It is so obvious. People in their right minds recoil from serious violence. But mind-altering drugs make them capable of terrible actions. If every violent criminal (and suicide) was checked for his use of marijuana, steroids or antidepressants, I think the connection would rapidly become undeniable. But powerful, rich lobbies fear such checks.

If we had a proper patrolling police force of the old kind, many of these incidents would never happen. Such a force would apply the boring laws on drug possession which our armed and scowling gendarmes, and their soppy, pseudo-intellectual chief officers, think are beneath them. Through their intimate knowledge of their beats and their frequent contact with the law-abiding, they would be aware of the strange behaviour of such people long before it became a danger.

For an unarmed, modest, old-fashioned police force, which walks quietly among us, has millions of willing eyes and ears, in the shape of a friendly and supportive public.

But an armed state militia, dressed for combat with its face set in a rigid frown and its hands ever reaching for gun, club or handcuffs, such as we now have, is a stranger to the people. And as well as making us look like a foreign despotism, it will fail in its task.