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Police Officer Safety

Part of Community Pharmacies – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 5:46 pm, 2nd November 2016

It should. We could go into the details of why people sometimes die as a result of Taser use, and it is very rare for that to happen, but that should certainly give us pause for thought. If the alternative is a police officer waving around an iron bar, which could easily strike somebody on the head and similarly injure them very badly or kill them, we have to look at what is the lesser of two evils. For me, the use of Tasers is the lesser of two evils.

I want to go quickly through a couple of other points. I, too, support the use of body cameras. They will enable people to see the problems that police officers face and help to bring more people to justice. I worry, however, that some people may see them as another way of being able to criticise the police. It is very important that people understand two things. First, police officers are under stress when they are threatened by a large group telling them, “We’re going to kill you. We’re going to attack you now.” That has happened to me and, frankly, it creates a certain amount of fear. I could not have admitted that at the time, but it does. Police officers cannot get away from the threat in front of them, and one of the ways they deal with it is to become quite aggressive in their language, and certainly in their gestures and sometimes in their behaviour. People must understand that when they look at camera footage. Secondly, it is a fact that when police officers have finished dealing with such a situation, they sometimes go back into the station and make comments or use language that some people, taking that out of context, may feel is inappropriate. We will have to be grown up and understand that when we look at camera footage.

I worry that the use of cameras by protesters at demonstrations is quite often a means to criticise the police very unfairly. For example, I have seen pictures in national newspapers of police officers looking very fierce and holding up an ASP as though ready to strike somebody. They are doing that because that is what they are trained to do. By the time a police officer has to draw a retractable baton, they are expected to behave in an aggressive fashion. There is no point waving it gently around saying, “Excuse me, sir, would you mind going home now?” By the time that thing is out, people must realise that the police officer means business, and they very often do so. I am worried about the way in which such cameras are used.

I will not be able to sum it up in one minute and 20 seconds, but there is a wider issue, which is the need to consider the whole way in which the police force is structured. It seems to me that we take everyone and train them to be out on the streets, but we can give them only two days training a year in how to use handcuffs, restraints, batons and all the rest of it, which is not enough for those who are going to end up in conflict situations.

I can absolutely say from bitter and true experience—most officers would reflect this—that all the stuff taught during those two days in the gym soon goes out of the window. It all looks very good in training, but once it happens for real, there is just a mass of arms and legs and batons and heavens knows what flying around all over the place, and it does not look good. Yet many police officers frankly do not need to be put in such situations. Those who deal with cybercrime need to be IT experts; they do not need to be able to run after people and catch them. Those who deal with financial crimes, need to be accountants. Even those dealing with and investigating serious crimes need to have a lawyer’s mind, rather than be able to run 100 metres in 10 seconds. I sometimes think that we could look at the different jobs being done in the police force and consider whether we need police officers to have all the skills that we currently require them to have. I will not have enough time to go into further details, but I want to say one more thing. It behoves us all as Members of Parliament to support the police, not to pander to groups or organisations that are there to criticise them.