Features

The return of Robocop

9 April 2016

9:00 AM

9 April 2016

9:00 AM

To the casual glance it looks like a normal police car — same markings, same lights, same faces at the wheel. Only the two small yellow circles, one at each of the top corners of the windscreen, tell you that this is a mobile armoury. It will often be a BMW X5: a SUV’s suspension copes better with the weight of the weapons, the gun safe, the ballistic shields. Inside, the occupants will be wearing Glock 17 pistols and have access to weapons which could include, in ascending order of bullet size and ‘penetrative power’, the Benelli Super 90 shotgun, Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, the G36 carbine, the Sig Sauer automatic gas-piston operated rifle, and the G3 sniper and assault rifle.

The MP5 is the standard; hollow-point rounds are used to prevent ‘over-penetration’; that is, bullets passing through a target or wall and hitting a bystander. The police use the single-shot or semi-automatic version: automatics are largely reserved for the SAS, though this may be changing.

Pictures of the Met’s specialised firearms squad, SCO19, in their masks, helmets, boilersuits and weaponry, underline how far we have come from the days when a single, unarmed constable guarded No. 10. Yet the truth is that there are far fewer Robocops than you’d think. Until the Paris attacks, the number of armed police officers in England and Wales was falling sharply. Home Office figures from 2014 show there were 5,875, down more than a thousand since 2008. London, often seen as the main terrorist target, had 2,211 firearms-trained officers, down from almost 2,800 over the same period. Some county forces had as few as 35. Surrey, full of army bases and other potential targets, had only 48 authorised firearms officers.


The majority of these officers will not be on duty at any one time. Not all of them will be routinely armed, even when they are on duty. And the vast majority will be trained and used only for the ‘bread and butter’ gun work of dealing with armed criminals. (The sharp fall in gun crime — in 2014, armed police fired lethal weapons only twice in anger — explains the drop in their numbers.)

Only the tiniest fraction of firearms officers are the elite ‘counter-terrorist specialist firearms officers’ — the guys with the G36s, trained for Paris-style hostage situations, marauder attacks and sieges. In London there are currently 130 such officers, about 6 per cent of the Met’s total armed strength. The number in even the largest provincial forces is understood to be minute.

It is those numbers, particularly in the provinces, which the authorities are now racing to increase. But for the foreseeable future, as Simon Chesterman, firearms lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, admitted last year, ‘a series of no-notice attacks…would significantly stretch our armed resources and very quickly we would be asking for military support’.

Detachments of the SAS and SBS are on permanent standby at army barracks in London: they, too, may carry out mobile patrols. The army is buying them the Osprey V-22, a combination helicopter-plane that can take off and land like a helicopter but travel at the speed of an aircraft.

It is hard to argue that any of this is unnecessary. What’s more troubling is the stealthy leakage of militarised policing, and military-looking policemen, into everyday operations. Plod’s new favourite weapon is the electric-shocking Taser, described as ‘non-lethal’, though in fact several people have been killed by it.

Thousands of officers all over Britain are now routinely armed with Tasers, including (among others) neighbourhood police in that notorious hotbed of violence, Cambridge. The weapons were used 10,000 times in 2014, an increase of more than 40 per cent in four years, even though there is no evidence whatever that crime, or violence against the police generally, increased in that time. It’s all rather a long way from Dock Green.

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Show comments
  • Roger Hudson

    I definitely remember an episode of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ where Dixon is armed with a revolver (got from a ship’s captain), all police officers of that generation were trained ( superficially ) with a gun, enfield .38 or No.4 rifle. When i was 7 and Mitchell escaped from Broadmoor our school bus had an armed policeman sitting by the door.
    No mainland policeman has ever fired more than 6 rounds in a single encounter since the war, I’m very deeply sceptical and worried about the militarization of some British police officers. I once told a policeman with a military carbine at Gatwick that the day he opens fire will probably his last day on the job, a round from his gun could go through a couple of flimsy bookshop walls and kill a child 50 metres away buying sweets.

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    • Antoine Bisset

      You are correct re the rounds going through walls. A shoot-out at an airport would be a massacre with people being killed in their offices before they knew anything was happening.
      The terrorists might also cause casualties.

      It is not reassuring to know that the police use hollow point bullets. These are commonly known as “dum-dum” bullets and it is illegal for our military to use them. They are intended to inflict the maximum amount of tissue damage and blood loss and expend their kinetic energy in the human target.
      The police scare me rather more than terrorists. The police have shot more innocent people in the UK than have terrorists. Also, as may be obvious from the numbers quoted above, the UK police would probably be incapable of dealing with a terrorist attack on the scale of the Bataclan.

      • Mr B J Mann

        Not only that, whilst they might have had no end of training: how many of today’s firearms officers have any experience of shooting live targets while under fire, or even of being under fire?!?!?!!!!

        There was a time when not only many, if not most, plod had seen active service, but most postmen “patrolling” the streets while most people were still abed, had too!

      • IainRMuir

        “The police have shot more innocent people in the UK than have terrorists.”

        “shot” – aren’t you being a bit selective? I don’t like the way that our police are changing either but they are armed to prevent all terrorist incidents, not just shootings. We lost 67 at 9/11 (not in the UK, but not a shooting either), and 52 at 7/7.

        • Antoine Bisset

          Not an unreasonable point. I don’t disagree. However, how many terrorists have been shot by the police in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland?
          How many terrorist incidents have been prevented by armed police? I do not mean interventions or responses but preventions?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        When you’re more afraid of the police than the criminals, it’s time to fly the coop.
        Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

        • Antoine Bisset

          It is beginning to look that way. I don’t suppose that you are expecting a visit from 60m Turks this summer, or anytime soon?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            You mean here in sunny Japan? No bleeding way.

          • Antoine Bisset

            Thought not.

      • Bokonon

        Why on earth do you find it not reassuring that the police use hollow point bullets? That type of ammunition has a better chance of stopping an enemy with one shot plus is safer in internal environments due to its comparative lack of penetrating power compared to military-style jacketed ammunition.

        • Antoine Bisset

          Mostly they are used on suspects, many of whom are innocent.
          The rules of engagement are such that an innocent person challenged by armed police will almost certainly be shot dead.

          • James Healey

            Well I’m an armed officer in the MET. I’ve challenged dozens of people, and never shot any of them, let alone shot them dead. What exactly is the basis for that ludicrous comment?
            Also, the “hollow point” bullets we use are not dum dumps which are literally hollow at the end and therefore flatten on impact, increasing their diameter and causing massive damage. Ours are designed to break up on impact – their sole purpose is to prevent over penetration and the kind of secondary casualties you referred to in your earlier post.
            Whilst I’m at it, I think “many of whom are innocent” needs some explanation too! With the exception of Jean Charles de Menezes (and that was hardly the fault of the firearms officers involved, who were told he was a suicide bomber) who are these innocents?

          • Antoine Bisset

            Thanks for your response Mr Healey. The bullets are similar to dumdums are they not, being designed to flatten and spread on impact causing massive tissue damage and blood loss by “mushrooming”. Unless wikipedia has got it wrong?
            Next consider the innocent Mr Stanley. Were the Met acting on a tip-off from a man in a pub? How did he get to be dead?
            My understanding is that, according to your rules of engagement, you issue a challenge, as “Armed police. Stop!” If the suspect does not stop within 3 seconds, they are shot. Police only shoot to kill.

            Not so?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            The fact that dumdum bullets were used to literally blow the brains out of jean Charles at Stockwell Tube Station is an indicator that Met Plod were not then real villains. That and the modified weapons used. Smell up and wake the coffee Britisher pals.

          • James Healey

            Definitely not so.
            Firearms officers have no special legislation covering their actions. The decision to use potentially lethal force can only be justified (and therefore lawful) if you have a genuine and honestly held belief that the person poses so serious a threat, to you or another, that potentially lethal force is proportionate and necessary. This is common law, and it applies equally to you as to me. So no, you can’t shoot someone for running away!
            And police do not shoot to kill. But neither do they shoot to wound. They shoot to neutralise a threat. They aim for the centre of what they can see, so as to maximise their chances of hitting, and thereby neutralising, the threat. There is no intent to kill, although killing is a distinct possibility.
            As to Mr Stanley (a convicted armed robber) he died because he went into a pub with a chair leg wrapped in a bag, and intimated to people inside that it was a shotgun. He did so convincingly enough that when he left, the door was locked, lights were turned out (it wasn’t closing time) and staff called 999 and reported him. An armed respond vehicle was despatched and he was located nearby. On being challenged, he spun round, and brought the chair leg up to his shoulder and aimed at one of the officers. Both of them (experienced officers nether of whom had fired a shot in anger before) were sufficiently convinced to shoot, simultaneously. I would have too.

          • Antoine Bisset

            Thank you for that. The police side of the Stanley story is interesting, but has a number of flaws. Accepting and acting on a story from a pub? Was he an immediate threat, or could the police have just called round to the house later?
            As regards the police acting under common law, I don’t think so. You have ignored my point about rules of engagement. Presumably police gunmen receive training, other than being told to be responsible and remember that you are subject to common law?

            As for “neutralising, the threat. There is no intent to kill..”, that is blethers. If you are aiming at the middle of the chest, as you are, then clearly the objective is to kill. If some person has a firearm and is a clear danger to life then they should be shot dead, just to be sure. I have no problem with that.
            If participants in an incident, and witnesses, colluded to share and agree the same story, I doubt it would be passed over. Nor can the man in the street claim anonymity, whether in the witness box, or the dock.
            And I have not even asked what drugs are issued to firearms officers…

          • James Healey

            Well firstly, they couldn’t go round to his house later, because they didn’t know who he was. The people in the pub didn’t know him, they reported a bloke acting strangely, who had a long object wrapped in a bag and had said (or led them to believe) it was a gun. They were scared enough of him to lock the doors after he left and call police. They described him and gave the direction he’d left in. The armed response vehicle came across him not far away. Furthermore, even if they had known who he was, why wait till later? If someone is in possession of an illegal firearm, and the police have knowledge of that, what justification have they got for waiting? Say the person shot someone before morning? Would you be ok with it if a member of your family was shot by some scumbag, and at the inquest it transpired someone had called police to report the guy had a gun, and the police had done nothing because they were going to call “round to the house later”?!! You seem to be suggesting that because he wasn’t an immediate threat, the police weren’t justified in going to find him. But the police investigate crime – carrying an unlawful firearm in a public place is definitely a crime. They just went to locate him to investigate the allegation. What happened next was a result of his actions and behaviour. As I said in my original reply, I’ve challenged dozens of people whom I’ve had reason to suspect (sometimes due to a call from a member of the public) may be in possession of a firearm – some were and some weren’t, but I’ve never shot any of them, because they’ve never spun towards me and lifted a gun shaped object into an aiming position. The officers aren’t to blame for Mr Stanley’s actions. We’ll never know for sure, but I would say it was a classic case of “suicide by cop” – thankfully, a rare occurrence in this country.

            Rules of engagement? This is a military term. Soldiers on operations are issued ROE to clarify when they can shoot. In war for instance, there need be no threat at all; if you come across a sleeping enemy soldier, you may kill him. In peace support operations however, you can only shoot if threatened etc. This is not a term used by the police. We can shoot only when justified as per the explanation I gave above. Yes, of course we receive training. Quite a lot in fact. Much of it scenario based. And if during those scenarios, you ended up shooting someone who wasn’t posing a potentially deadly threat to you or another (as per common law) you would not be a firearms officer any longer.

            It is not blethers. Mens Rea (state of mind) is an important legal principle. Of course shooting someone in the chest comes with a high probability of killing them. But what is the intent when pulling the trigger? “I’m going to kill this guy” or “I need to prevent this guy from shooting my colleague, I can’t do anything other than shoot him, he may die, but I have no option” It may seem a minor point, but it’s a very important one. You claimed police only shoot to kill; in fact we never shoot to kill, we shoot because it’s the only viable option to neutralise a threat, and any killing (and of the few police shootings that do occur, most people survive) is merely incidental.

          • Mr B J Mann

            “In war for instance, there need be no threat at all; if you come across a sleeping enemy soldier, you may kill him. In peace support operations however, you can only shoot if threatened etc.”

            Yet there is a soldier in prison for “killing” a dying or dead Taliban already shredded by several helicopter gunship rounds.

            Meanwhile, despite several completely innocent and unarmed “civvies” being killed no policeman has ever been imprisoned.

          • Het Russ

            I don’t believe this is true – anecdotally, see the armed police response to the Lee Rigby murder.

          • Mr B J Mann

            Yes, but they were obviously members of the RoP and so clearly posed no threat!

          • Bokonon

            Nonsense. Complete toss.

  • ROUCynic

    Ah “Dock Green” – Dixon eh? The avuncular PC who was shot dead on duty. Is that the Dixon you mean?

  • Bert

    Ready to quell any dissent against cultural enrichment.

  • davidshort10

    In Dixon’s day, huge numbers of people had guns, brought over after the war. Children would sometimes take them to school. The difference was that hardly anyone had any ammo and if they had they wouldn’t kill someone with it because they’d swing.

    • Tom M

      True. My mate and I in the late 50s found several belts of bren gun ammo in our neighbours shed. We removed quite a few bullets and polished them up. I took some to school and stood them on my desk. The teacher noticed them and asked where they came from. She told me to take them back (imagine that today). I did. The bloke next door removed the cordite and gave me them back. Innocent days eh.
      Having said that it was not uncommon then to go searching for expended (or not) ammo to collect. It was easy to find. We threw the live stuff onto the fire at Guy Fawkes night.

      • davidshort10

        Contrast that with a scene from an otherwise good cop drama, Line of Fire, where a police inspector comes across a revolver in a search and shouts for a ‘trained firearms officer’ to come and take it safely. It’s an effing revolver! Didn’t he have a cap gun as a kid? Still, it’s good that Brit cops are not routinely armed. They weren’t recruited with a psychological test to see whether they should carry a gun so best to leave it. But don’t be swarthy and get on a tube train if you can help it. You might get shot at point blank range and your killer will get off. The senior copper in command who is responsible for your murder will be promoted and remain in the highest ranks. Oh, and don’t carry a wrapped-up table leg in the afternoon in north London if you are Irish or you’ll end up on the slab.

        • Tom M

          Line of Fire, agreed, I saw that and said the same thing.
          I remember the shootings you refer to and agree with your sentiments. There is something seriously wrong when they shoot the wrong man dead and the policewoman in charge gets promoted. Very disturbing.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Even if it were not her error she should have carried the can. responsibility of a personal nature is no longer allowed though.

        • Antoine Bisset

          Some police are routinely armed in Scotland. They wear automatic pistols to pop into shops to buy sandwiches .

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          The state sponsored murder of Jean Charles on a Stockwell Tube train marked a sea change in relations between public and police. No longer policing with consent.
          Radio communications were blamed.
          “I thought you said ‘Kill him'”
          “No, I said “Don’t kill him” ya pillock.”
          You win some, you lose some.

          • EUSSR 4 All!

            What did you get done for?!

        • nae a belger

          Even though Harry Stanley was Scottish…..

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Happy days.
        You’d be looking at five-to-10 at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in today’s UK Police State.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Why does the picture of the police officer have a Union flag on his uniform?

    We do not have a British police force. I doubt very much that the Scottish Police Force has a Union flag on their uniform.

    • ROUCynic

      It’s not a union flag. It’s a thin blue line patch – a black and white ‘union flag’ with a thin blue line through it.
      Some officers wear then to protest the 19,000 Police posts cut since 2010.

      • gonefishing01

        It was worn, initially at least, to remember police officers killed in the line of duty. It may have since become a wider symbol of the “difficulties” faced by the police, but that was not its original purpose.

        • Dominic Stockford

          gonefishing is correct. I have one to show support for the police – even though sometimes I wonder why!

    • gonefishing01

      Many police officers wear on their uniform a Union Flag defaced with a thin blue line through it horizontally in tribute to police officers killed in the line of duty.

      However, the officer above does not appear to be wearing that patch. By the fact he’s carrying a H&K MP7 PDW, it would seem he’s with the Ministry of Defence Police, an all-armed force responsible for providing the civil policing of all MoD property, establishments and personnel. Some of their most serious work involves escorting Trident missiles with Royal Marines when they’re being transported by road. At the other end, officers will walk the beat (unarmed) in barracks and port towns on Friday and Saturday nights to make sure that soldiers, sailors and airmen don’t cause too much grief to the locals.

      Along with the British Transport Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary (the latter also all-armed), the MDP is one of the UK’s non-Home Office special police forces with responsibilities throughout the UK (or Great Britain in the case of the BTP).

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Union flag, aka the butcher’s apron.

      • EUSSR 4 All!

        Then why do you still have, hold and use a British passport?! What for?!

      • Son_of_Casandra

        Secessionist sc*m.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          When you occupy and brutalise another country, it does tend to end in tears. The oppressed population just don’t realise it’s all for their own good. Short-sighted but there you are.
          Give Ireland back to the Irish. All of it.

    • SonOfaGun

      I have one on my car. It pleases the right people, and upsets the right people. Win, win.

  • Seldom Seen

    And to think they used to worry about kids being overly influenced by TV. Then again, maybe the Met is full of kids …

  • Wildcat Grumman

    But the food’s so much better than in the 1950s!

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Compared to what?

  • grimm

    Real policing is a long way from any TV fantasy about determined law enforcement. All we get on telly is the kind of complex and interesting detectives the writers wish existed pursuing the kind of complex villains the writers wish existed.

    It would be far more honest to show how inadequate policing has led to loss of control of the streets and how arrogant career criminals treat the law and the public with contempt. I guess that doesn’t make “good television” so we will just get our regular dose of complex and fascinating serial killers.

  • jeffersonian

    The best thing we could do for the police would be to denounce the McPherson report and repeal the Race Relations Amendment Act.

  • Mr B J Mann

    “Surrey, full of army bases and other potential targets, had only 48 authorised firearms officers.”

    Surely, if it’s full of army bases, it shouldn’t need armed police to defend them?!

    Is this what our armed forces have sunk to?!

    And don’t call me surly!

    • IainRMuir

      The army cannot act as a police force on our streets without very specific authority.

      Surely you know that?

      • Mr B J Mann

        An army base isn’t on our streets.

        Surely you know that?

        • IainRMuir

          “An army base isn’t on our streets.”

          You need to do a little research into constabulary powers, and how responsibility is divided between service police and civilian police.

          Perhaps also a little thought about how an attack on a military base would develop, and whether it might spill over into civilian areas and who be responsible for containment.

          • Mr B J Mann

            So you’re saying a terrorist attack on an army base would develop from a beach landing via street fighting?

            Bit like an ordinary invasion!

            Even if that’s the case, why has the responsibility for defending against it been “divided” to he constabulary?!

            Actually, while we’re on the subject, if it’s no longer the belief that patrolling the streets deters crime, and it’s not the police’s job to patrol th streets why are they patrolling airports disguised as special forces?!

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Richard Head of MET.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Or Shirley.

    • mdj

      On the other hand Mike Tyson was never seen out without his bodyguards…

      • Mr B J Mann

        How did I miss this sitting duck?!

        Boxers “minders” are there to protect the promoter’s investment, the boxer’s fists, and the sucker trying to start a fight!!!

  • Mr B J Mann

    “Plod’s new favourite weapon is the electric-shocking Taser, described as ‘non-lethal’, though in fact several people have been killed by it.”

    Fatalities wouldn’t be a problem if they were used as originally intended: as a nominally non-lethal alternative to lethal firearms!

    Unfortunately they seem to be used as a potentially lethal alternative to a truncheon, cs gas, and even a quiet word in your shell-like!!!

  • Mr B J Mann

    “………The majority of these officers will not be on duty at any one time…….. (The sharp fall in gun crime — in 2014, armed police fired lethal weapons only twice in anger — explains the drop in their numbers.)

    …….The weapons were used 10,000 times in 2014, an increase of more than 40 per cent in four years,”

    Tasers were supposedly originally intended: as a nominally non-lethal alternative to lethal firearms!

    Unfortunately, as those statistics prove, they seem to be increasingly used as a potentially lethal alternative to a truncheon, cs gas, and even a quiet word in your shell-like!!!

  • rbw152

    (Previously posted this under the wrong article.)

    These so-called ‘robocops’ aren’t all bad. I once went up to one and asked him about the Heckler and Koch submachine gun he was carrying because my son and I were arguing about the exact model.

    Sure, walking up to him, with all his hardware and surly face was a little daunting but when I spoke to him a broad grin completely transformed his appearance and he was happy to discuss some of the technical details of the weapon, even showing me it’s ammo in a spare clip he had.

    I say ‘some’ of the details because when I got too detailed in my questioning he said he wasn’t at liberty to divulge such details – that would have to wait for Wikipedia when we got home. |

    Anyway, the point here is, he was a human being like you and me, enthusiastic about his job and a nice guy to boot. Frankly, I’d rather have men like him in the streets with guns than some jihadi nutter with an AK, wouldn’t you?

    Mys son was right by the way. It was an MP7, not an MP5.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Those Mk1 can be a bit twitchy and go off if dropped. So if you see a Border Force goon coming in the Gents, get out fast, fast, fact.

      • ROUCynic

        They aren’t armed – but apart from that minor deatail, yes that’s good advice.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Test

    • Darnell Jackson

      Getting paranoid?

      • EUSSR 4 All!

        Serial block or ban evader with a touch of Tourette’s … he is probably not paid to sprout nonsense, unlike the Chinese Trolls on the Guardian these days, chiefly, but whatever floats his boat, eh?!

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Not anecdotal, but first hand personal experience of a hostile confrontation with Police State UK. I’ll let you know the outcome of my official complaint, after forwarding BF’s response to the Daily Mail. At least those guys are on the case.
        Border Force, dedicated to keeping the right people out while letting the wrong ones in.
        But hey Darnell, many thanks for the second bite of the cherry opportunity.
        Jack, back in the Japan Alps

    • Son_of_Casandra

      Ickles?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    RoboCop? Check out Te Border Force goons at LHR.
    “How dare you! You’re a racist.”
    Sure Adolph. Whatever you say.
    Watch out for Adolph, the Terminal 5 attack dog.
    Jack, back in the Japan Alps

  • SonOfaGun

    A lot of use militarized police were to people in the Bataclan. One (1) armed civilian could have changed history. In Britain we can’t even defend ourselves with pepper spray. You can’t aim an AK47 if you can’t see. Trump on the Bataclan: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/14/politics/paris-terror-attacks-donald-trump-guns/

  • Jacobi

    This list of weapons is most impressive but as is implied, somewhat useless. The weapons and
    their operators will turn up long after the Muslim terrorist has explode his or her bomb.

    And as for tazers with a range of 25 ft, what is the point, other than against a few peeved locals who are a bit fed up with how this terrorism is being dealt with.

    • pgtipsster

      This list of weapons is most impressive but as is implied, somewhat useless.

      The weapons are for preventing “Islamophobic” backlashes against the bombers communities, the ones who consider the bombers heroes.

      • Jacobi

        I would not disagree with that

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Taser
      Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle

      • Jacobi

        You are right. A bit more research should be done on this idea, increasing the range to say 300 yards. They can then be used to keep all demonstrators at a comfortable distance from the police whose job does not include being a punch-bag for immigrants and Islamophiles.

  • Zalacain

    Governments love excuses to arm themselves.

    • Mr B J Mann

      And to disarm the law abiding.

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