Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Dreddful.

WHEN a horror happens those who feel it most shout loudest for it to never happen again.

And who wouldn't? For many who've lost a loved one in newsworthy circumstances it is part of the grieving process to talk to journalists, pay tribute to the dead and fix whatever mistake caused it.

That's why the father of Pc Fiona Bone - one of two women police officers killed by gun and grenade in Manchester yesterday - said he wanted the death penalty for the person responsible.

"I never expected this. It's so hard to take," he said. "He deserves to be hanged but I know we'll never get that."

It's why Darren Rathband, the brother of Pc David Rathband who took his own life after being blinded by steroid-crazed gunman Raoul Moat, said all officers should carry guns.

"How many officers need to die before the powers realise that it is the 21st century and you cannot fight crime with an outdated piece of plastic and a bit of spray?" he said. "No job is a routine job and there is always the potential for conflict. We don't go on jobs where people are happy to see us."

It's why Paul Beshenivsky whose Pc wife Sharon was shot dead, said: "I think police, in honesty, should be armed, walking into situations that they're not totally aware of."

It's all very understandable, all easy to say, and all wrong.

We don't have the death penalty for the very logical reason that killing people to prove that killing people is wrong cannot possibly be right. Never mind that you can't always be certain, that convictions can be overturned decades later, or that sometimes criminals can be rehabilitated; if some crimes are so bad they make us want to kill people, it is not acting on that urge which makes us better.

The Police Federation wants the death penalty for people who kill police officers, but then so does Nick Griffin and that's normally a good reason not to do something.

On the same day those two Pcs were shot, a trial in London was hearing the case of a man accused of providing a handgun to Mark Duggan, the alleged crack dealer from Tottenham whose death at the hands of a police marksman last summer sparked four days of riots.

The court heard Mark was under police surveillance when he collected a handgun, wrapped in a sock and hidden in a shoebox. Ten minutes later police surrounded the car he was travelling in, and he was shot dead with a bullet to the chest.

Eyewitnesses at the time said Duggan was pinned to the floor and shot in cold blood, and that police ordered him to stop but he refused. Police investigators wrongly stated he'd shot at officers first, and when the gun was later examined neither it nor the sock had his DNA on it.

Because of the shock of a man being shot in the street, because he did not appear to have a gun in his hand and because of the misleading statements from investigators, people became convinced it was police brutality. Tottenham saw vigils, protests and then full-blown riots which spread across London and even to other cities. Shops were looted, homes burned, the police under attack.

No-one would have suggested for a second last summer that more coppers should have guns. When we saw the rioting unfold in TV pictures from news helicopters with crowds hurling rocks at officers there were calls for water cannon and rubber bullets, but never firearms because it was obvious they could only make things worse.

Nothing has changed since then. Guns are not suddenly magical things which kill only the guilty. Their mistakes are still fatal ones.

Police officers are one of several groups of people who run towards trouble and put themselves in danger for no other reason than they think they ought to. Social workers do the same, ambulance staff, nurses, doctors, and journalists too. They are all attacked in the course of their jobs and all knock on doors they're not sure about only to find a bad person hiding behind it. Should we give them all guns?

Of course not. And as far as the police are concerned it only ups the ante and forces criminals into tooling up to match or outdo them.

The last Police Federation survey found 82 per cent of officers didn't want to be routinely armed. Of those who refused to carry a gun, 56 per cent said they'd leave the force rather than be armed. They probably know better than Nick Griffin.

It's hardly the same but I've been threatened with all kinds of weapons in the course of my job - shot at on one memorable occasion - and in my experience it's a lot easier to talk your way out of a sticky spot when everyone involved knows you're armed only with a Biro.

It seems obvious that a copper with a gun talking to someone mad or bad who also has a gun is probably going to involve guns at some point.

And would it have helped PC Bone or her colleague PC Nicola Hughes if they'd been armed? They were responding to a routine call about a burglary, which now seems to have been a hoax. They knocked on the door and someone opened fire, then hurled a grenade at them for good measure.

If they had been armed, they would not have time to unholster a weapon before they were killed. Had one of them by some fluke managed to shoot their assailant after they were injured, he would never be brought to justice, and every other criminal in Manchester would have decided they needed a gun of their own next time the cops come knocking.

We don't know if the officers were wearing body armour or where the bullets landed. We don't know whether it was a licenced gun or where on Earth the killer got a hand grenade from.

We do know the main suspect - who has yet to be charged - was wanted for two other gun and grenade murders. We do know he was known by locals and journalists to be living in the area where the officers were sent, and that the police were spending £150,000 a day trying to find him. And we do know he'd been questioned over the previous murders and then released on police bail.

The only thing that would have saved Fiona and Nicola is if the person responsible were not on the streets, or they had known that the door they were knocking on could well have had him standing behind it.

And as shocking as their deaths are, they bring to just six the number of police officers shot dead in the line of duty since 2000. Of the 22 officers killed at work in that time, twice as many have been run over or in car accidents while trying to arrest someone.

And in America where all cops have guns, 40 were shot dead in 2011 alone. Even taking into account their much greater population and the fact we had, very unusually, three gun deaths in the past year they have nearly three times as many officers gunned down as we do.

In 2007 the UK had nearly 7,000 authorised firearms officers who were deployed to use their weapons in 21,000 incidents. They needed to use them on just seven occasions - that's 0.03 per cent of the time. If that is the rate at which officers think they need to shoot someone why should we make them do it more often?

Armed police make mistakes which cannot be fixed. They have shot dead people armed with ball-bearing guns, air pistols and table legs, innocent Brazilians running for the train and the mentally unwell. Do we want more?

It is very easy for the knee to jerk, and easier to still to argue that crack dealers, gangsters and people who walk around with grenades are fair game whose deaths at the hands of a righteous copper would improve the world a little.

No doubt they would. But the manner of their death should not be at the hands of the state or its agents, otherwise we are asking all our police officers to be no better than hangmen.

They don't want to do that, and we don't want Judge Dredd convicting and executing people on the spot.

Those two policewomen didn't die because they were unarmed. They died, in all likelihood, because of a series of mistakes - about the likely danger they were walking into, about the failure to find the man now suspected of their killings, about not nicking the person who sells grenades.

The most important thing is not to make any more by making them all carry guns - against their will, against all common sense, and in the futile hope it would save more lives than it costs.

He is not the law.