IT IS now inevitable that Welsh police officers will be routinely armed, after the murder of a police officer and the rise in gun crime across Britain, it was predicted last night.
After it was revealed that probationer police officer Sharon Beshenivsky, a mother of three children and stepmother to another two, was gunned down at the scene of a robbery in Bradford on Friday, her daughters fourth birthday, senior officers said such arming was now only a matter of time.
Wayne Baker, secretary of the South Wales Police Federation, said, Unfortunately we are seeing more and more criminal use of guns and in my view it is only a matter of time before all police are armed.
However I think it is very important we step gently towards that position. Our police officers have already been surveyed on what they think about being armed routinely and 80% came out against it.
But there is a feeling that we must respond to the growing criminal use of guns and that is through an increase in the number of armed response units we have.
While 80% were against routine arming, around 80% were for more officers being firearm-trained.
Former police superintendent Gerry Toms, who was trained as a firearms officer, agreed with Mr Baker that Welsh police would one day all be armed.
He said, I dont know if it will be five years, 10 years or 20, but you have to realise the police role is to present a balanced response to criminals use of firearms. The use of firearms is growing steadily and in some parts of the country firearms are some sort of fashion accessory.
The result is inevitably that more and more police will be armed. Initially it will be increased use of armed response vehicles. I believe South Wales now has three of these units patrolling in places like Cardiff, Swansea or Bridgend at any one time. Their numbers will have to be increased and there will come a time when all officers will be armed.
That will present a major problem because not everyone is suited to firearms handling. The instruction and training have to be meticulous and quite gruelling and obviously high levels of accuracy have to be maintained.
Not everyone will be able to do that.
Mr Baker said yesterday that increasing the arming of the police would lead to a big changes in the way the public engaged with officers.
Take for instance a situation in which some verbal abuse is being thrown at police. While now officers can talk to the person or persons concerned, if arms were involved the officer would have to step back to create a safe distance, in itself creating a barrier.
Surveys have shown a large percentage of US officers are killed with their own weapons. That means officers will have to keep a distance between themselves and the public just to keep their firearm out of harms reach.
Unfortunately because of the growing use of firearms and the terrorism threat, routine arming of the police will have to come.
South West Wales AM Peter Black opposed further arming the police, or reintroducing the death penalty for police killers.
We already have armed response units which must be the appropriate way to deal with firearms incidents. The officers in these units are trained to deal with armed criminals, he said.
Other officers can operate unarmed with the back-up of armed response units, but arming all police would lead to an escalation because more criminals would feel a need to arm themselves.
When it comes to the question of capital punishment for those who kill officers in the line of duty, I cannot see the need to distinguish between different types of murder.
Does that mean we might have capital punishment for someone who kills a policeman but not for someone who kills a child?
However, the former head of the Metropolitan Police, Lord John Stevens, has called for the death penalty to be reinstated for police killers. He said that, in spite of his having always opposed capital punishment, he believed the killer of PC Beshenivsky should lose his life as a punishment.
All my life Ive been against the death penalty. But after the cold-blooded murder of Sharon Beshenivsky, Ive changed my mind, he said.