At this time when police are under investigation for the unnecessary use of firearms and tasers it is fair to ask the question: do Australian police services need firearms or tasers on the street? This is a very serious question, as if you look at crime statistics, Australia is a safer place than the UK or the USA. In the UK police officers do not carry arms on the street and they can only become available to police officers on the street on the permission of a police officer of Superintendent rank or above. This permission is not often given.
Again if you look at the statistics UK police officers suffer less serious injuries and fewer deaths than their Australian equivalents.
Why is this the case if they are not armed?
In the USA these statistics are even more striking. Police officers are very vulnerable to firearms, and this has led to the situation where police officers will often shoot first and ask questions afterwards.
This is understandable in the USA context. Do we want Australia to move in that direction? There are often comparisons with the USA made in police statements, but is this a good comparison to make? Why not make comparisons with the UK? A serious question: is it necessary for the police to be armed in any Australian jurisdiction?
The evidence from recent years where it has been an almost ‘open season’ on psychiatric patients and people behaving oddly suggests that this movement towards the free use of firearms by police is happening? At one level it is simple: if police are not armed then criminals are less likely to carry firearms. If you look at other countries that have unarmed police forces such as Switzerland and New Zealand and compare the data with Australia this does appear to be the case. If firearms are in holsters they will be used in times of stress whatever the guidelines. That is the reality of human behaviour under stress. If firearms are not available to police officers they will come up with alternative strategies to deal with a situation. Police officers in the UK do just this. Maybe Australian police services should make their comparisons with police forces in England, Scotland and Wales, rather than with police forces in the USA. It is interesting that in union ballots over a number of years UK police officers have consistently voted for not being armed. I wonder why? Maybe they feel safer not being armed.
One would equally ask the question: are tasers needed by the police? They are not weapons that are free of risk for the person who is tasered. Is it helpful to the police to kill people? I suspect that killing people does the police harm, rather than improving their image in the public’s perception. I would conclude that all police forces in Australia should be unarmed. In the short term this would make for vulnerability, but in the longer term our police officers would be safer, and our country safer. Being armed would appear to be a false security.
Dr Jon Kear-Colwell, Terranora