Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller.
Armed police officer at North East protest
Cleveland force says it gives value for money
Cleveland and Durham Police is undermining the tradition of the British police as an unarmed service, according to an academic expert.
An officer from the Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Firearms Unit was photographed wearing a gun at a recent construction workers protest in Redcar.
An officer at a later protest then said it was “routine for officers, particularly those on traffic duties, to be wearing guns... because of cuts to the budget.”
Regulations governing police use of arms in the UK are unclear. It is generally accepted that chief constables have “operational responsibility” for decisions to deploy armed officers.
The College of Policing identifies examples where a chief constable may authorise the issuing of firearms: to officers on armed response vehicles, protection duties, specific escort duties and prolonged operations where carrying firearms is essential.
Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 has been interpreted to mean that minimum force will always be used and consequently that police officers will only wear guns in exceptional circumstances.
The workers protest in Redcar was over pay and recruitment at the site of a new waste incinerator being built by SITA Sembcorp. The protest was peaceful and no arrests were made.
A Cleveland Police spokesperson cited operational sensitivity when asked how many of their officers might be carrying guns daily.
“Like all other forces, Cleveland Police has officers who routinely patrol whilst armed,” said the spokesperson. “In order to provide the best value for money in our local communities, these officers are also fully trained in roads policing specific skills so that the force is able to deploy its officers and staff most effectively when the specific firearms skills are not required.”
The spokesperson claimed there had been no change in the numbers of officers patrolling with firearms. Cuts would not change the deployment of armed officers or those generally on patrol.
Asked whether the wearing of a gun by a police officer at a construction workers protest was appropriate the spokesperson said: “Whether or not the officer is armed is irrelevant as they were attending in the dual role as roads policing officers.
The deployment of a police officer to this event – armed or otherwise – has been assessed as part of a strategic approach to managing this recurring protest.”
The acting assistant Chief Constable for Redcar and Cleveland Police, Ciaron Irvine, added: “Cleveland Police deploys officers to incidents on the basis of skills and availability. Early deployment was designed to assess numbers on the protest and its impact on the local road network in the run-up to rush hour. Armed officers from the Cleveland and Durham specialist operations unit were sent to fulfil the task and as the event developed they were replaced by locally based officers coming on duty.”
Dr Graham Smith, a senior lecturer in regulation at Manchester University and an expert on policing, said: “Rather than keep their officers on standby in readiness for an incident that requires the attendance of authorised firearms officers Cleveland Police are deploying them on ordinary duties.
“This significantly undermines the tradition and character of the British police as an unarmed service.”
Smith said that anyone wanting to legally challenge Cleveland chief constable Jacqui Cheer’s operational decisions would need to seek a judicial review.
Barry Coppinger, Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Police officer deployment is an operational matter for the chief constable. Therefore it would be not be appropriate for me to comment on where officers are assigned.”
Tony, one of the Redcar protesters, said: “People were bemused at first but then began asking was it because we had been protesting now for many months.
“Police officers wearing guns should not be down here. Where will they turn up next?”