Many years ago, I was a police constable in a semi-rural area. It wasnt quite back in Heartbeat times, though I lived through them as a probationer constable. Every so often Id get a radio message that sounded like this:
Control room: Golf Mike two one from control.
Self : Golf Mike two one go ahead, over.
Control room: Golf Mike two one, go to the end of Carr Lane. Report of a man with a gun in a field.
Self: Will attend, but whats he doing that requires attendance?
Control room: (Indignantly) Its a report from a member of the public that hes in the field and hes got a gun!
Self: (Resignedly and wearily) Will go.
So then Id have to drive a couple of miles, get out of my nice warm panda car and tramp across a muddy field, covering my (admittedly not highly polished) shoes in mud to find the shooter, have a pleasant five-minute chat with him about shooting, maybe check his certificate and tramp back to the car to tell control that no offence had been committed another hour spent protecting the public from criminals.
Times have moved on, and now were in the era of what was described in those days as the ACE, or Arse-Covering Exercise, where what matters is that you have written a page or two of justification of whatever youve just done, covering yourself and senior officers as well.
Finding a solution
According to Home Office figures, there are about 128,000 firearm and 550,000 shotgun certificates in England and Wales, but sadly we dont know the number of shooters, as Home Office statistics havent reached that state of refi nement yet. That said, these figures give us a clue that a police officer is more likely to come across a legal shooter than the local Taliban cell hiding in a hedgerow surrounded by plastic pigeon.
I know that is a flippant comment, and that complacency regarding firearms is not a good idea, but there has to be a balance, and we dont seem to have that at the moment. It would be nice if every police officer in the UK understood firearms law and the sports involved, but this doesnt appear possible. (I recently had an email from a police officer who thought pistols were still allowed for target shooting.)
So, where do we go to avoid the risks inherent in an armed police officer/ armed shooter confrontation? Probably the most important link is the control room operators who receive calls from the public then direct police resources to deal with incidents. If they had a proper basic awareness of the shooting sports, they would be better able to assess the risks involved, rather than treating every case as a prospective massacre. (ACE again.)
There are some excellent staff in these areas and they work under considerable pressures. People in great distress ring the police expecting quick solutions to their often life-threatening problems and it is a difficult job to extract the necessary information from such distraught people. Yet day-in, night-out, control room staff manage this, as well as deploying the limited police resources available to them to those incidents. I know some people will say that you should tell the police whenever you go shooting. That argument has been dealt with in the article Its time the police got sensible (9 September), so I wont rehearse the arguments again here, except to add that the police will have to attend anyway, regardless of the fact that they have been told that a shooter might be acting legitimately, though at least their response should be less dramatic.
BASC recognised some 10 years ago that there had been an apparent rise in incidents where the police had reacted to situations such as the ones outlined in Shooting Times (News, 19 August and 30 September), using massive resources, so it had a meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers lead in this area, Chief Constable Giffard, from Staffordshire. As a result, BASC has put together The armed police officers guide to shooters, which was widely circulated a decade ago.
It appears that the time may have come to reissue this guide, so BASC is in the process of updating and reprinting it. Once weve done that well decide how best to use it probably by asking police forces to provide their control room staff with copies, as well as their armed response officers.
To download The armed police officers guide to shooters, visit BASC firearms departments guidance and fact sheets page of the BASC website at www.basc.org.uk.