PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, whose murders at the hands of an armed, dangerous individual on Tuesday, in the midst of condolences and tributes, has sparked a debate on whether police on patrol should be armed and what the punishment should be for police killers.
The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the world, along with Ireland, Norway and New Zealand, whose police officers are more often than not unarmed. Now, with the shocking deaths, people are questioning whether this should change, asking are we letting down our police by not providing such protection?
In this individual case the suspected killer Dale Cregan lured the two officers with a report of burglary and then launched a gun and grenade attack. In such a pre-mediated attack perpetrated by a deeply violent man on bail suspected of a pub-shooting, if the two officers had been carrying guns could they have saved themselves?
They were walking into what appears to be a planned and determined effort to take police officers lives - very sad indeed, but the reason we should now arm our police? No, the debate must go deeper, and the choice made should not be an emotive and kneejerk reaction.
In America, the police have been armed since their inception. Only last year the Miami police shot seven African Americans in just an eight-month period. As James Hallwood pointed out on these pages earlier today, figures from 2009 show you were 40 times more likely to be shot in America than in England or Wales. The article also also rebuts the argument police officers will necessarily be safer if armed, noting 166 American cops died from gunfire last year alone.
The issue of punishment was reignited by Tory peer Lord Tebbit, who on Wednesday called for the death penalty for police killers. As with the calls to arm our police, this should be roundly resisted.
The mixture of an armed police and the death penalty creates a very precarious situation. As Ian Hislop stated on Question Time a year ago, there have been several examples of miscarriages of justice, many involving innocent people convicted of murders, people who under the death penalty would already be dead; as he said pro-hanging hard-right Tory MP Priti Patel, “it’s not a deterrent killing the wrong people”.
Furthermore, the death penalty commonly creates a more violent society; once the state kills we have degraded our standing and the example we set. In America, the South has the highest crime rate in the States, and since 1976 has executed 1,068 people compared to 151 in the Midwest, 81 in the east and 4 in the Northeast.
In the past few days it has been suggested if it is not the death penalty, it has to be a complete life sentence for cop killers, but why is it just talk just of cop killers? Police do brave work and none deserve to die in the line of duty, but no innocent person deserves to fall victim to murder and they deserve the best justice the law offers. If a policeman murdered someone in a cold blood surely they should get the same sentence as someone who’d murdered them?