Reposted from my Friend & Brother in Blue from the UK; Nathan Constable
This morning, the Rt. Hon. Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee has gone on record in The Telegraph questioning the response time of police officers in dealing with the incident at Woolwich.
May I start by saying that this is not a personal attack on Mr Vaz who I have always found to be a very supportive friend of the police. Sometimes a critical friend and rightly so but on this I disagree with him vehemently. All I am seeking to do here is challenge the implication that unarmed cops could have done something in the circumstances as they appear.
His view appears to be that innocent members of the public were put at unnecessary risk for too long because of the wait for an armed response.
He suggests that unarmed officers should have intervened and that he wants the rules to changed to ensure they do in future.
I find this staggering. Not because I believe that police officers’ lives are more sacred than anyone else – far from it – we all know the risks we take when we join up but there is a difference between “calculated risk” and “blatant stupidity.”
The only way to address the points Mr Vaz makes is to examine what we have seen. I have been hugely critical of the media over this incident but there is no shortage of video evidence.
I will be careful because there is an ongoing investigation but let us look at the facts.
It is alleged that the two have deliberately targeted an off duty soldier and then killed him in the street in the most brutal manner.
Having done so – it is alleged that they then stood around demanding that people take photos and making a number of political statements.
During this time a number of passers-by have either engaged the two or gone to tend to the victim. This is extraordinary bravery.
The two appear not to have presented a direct threat to these people – though the risk should not be underestimated and the risk was present.
When the first police car appears and goes to intervene it appears (from the video) as though the two have attacked it in a predetermined move which led to them both being incapacitated by potentially lethal force.
I am not advocating that you watch the video but if you have already seen it think about how long it took from the moment the car pulls up to the moment it was under control. We think about 10 seconds.
The officer in the back of the car had less than three seconds to assess the risk, make a life-changing, career changing and potentially life ending decision and then act upon it.
Less time than it takes to say “they are coming straight for us!”
These officers had training, reflexes and equipment to deal with the threat.
Now imagine that the first car to pull up and try to intervene had contained unarmed officers.
It appears as though one male charges the car and another steps back and draws aim with a firearm at it.
Given that all the unarmed officers would have to help them is a stab-proof vest, a tin of CS and a baton what chance would they have stood?
Mr Winsor’s fitness test and all the “Sophie Khan” talking in the world would have been utterly useless.
What was being dealt with here is what is classified as an “active killer” scenario. In this case there were two.
Is Mr Vaz really suggesting that unarmed officers are to be expected to walk (or run) into that kind of situation to draw the fire of the subjects?
Does Mr Vaz think that unarmed officers could realistically have overpowered and detained these two?
We know now that having allegedly killed Drummer Rigby these two waited on scene. This is unprecedented but it has all the hallmarks of a potential “suicide by cop” or an ambush.
We don’t know what the police commanders knew at the time but I know one thing “you don’t take a knife to gunfight.”
There was similar criticism of the police after 7/7. The media particularly made a big deal about the actions – the perceived “inactions” of some of the very first responders.
The role of the first officer on the scene of a major incident or disaster is *not* to get directly involved. Their job is to report back so that commanders can get the right resources to the right place as quickly as possible.
Without this vital professional update senior officers are still blind.
If the first officer gets directly involved then they are lost to the cause and if every subsequent officer who arrives gets directly involved then no-one is any the wiser as to what is actually going on.
Counter-intuitive though this may seem it actually saves lives because it although it delays the initial response it allows for the overall response to be faster and more appropriate.
What Mr Vaz appears to be suggesting that unarmed officers should be sent along to an active killer situation to “see what they can do.”
The answer about what they *can* do seems pretty obvious to me.
Do we keep sending unarmed officers in until the armed ones arrive?
What would the outcome of that be?
In this case it appears that the response for the unarmed officers was 9 minutes.
I have no idea what those officers did or where they actually deployed. For all I know they could have been stood off, watching and updating the senior officers on what was going on. That is what I would have asked my officers to do.
“They appear to be stood talking”
If they had been carrying on with their rampage who knows what would have happened in terms of intervention. The fact is – they weren’t. They were stood talking. Bizarre yes – fact yes.
The armed officers arrived at 14 minutes and were immediately charged by the suspects.
In that time – nobody else was hurt – public, police or otherwise. If it had been done any other way I suspect that this would not have been the case.
Police officers would have been hurt or killed, members of the public who may have tried to help would have been hurt or killed and it could have initiated a whole new level of threat or violence.
I am not a firearms officer and I have no specific training in firearms command. I salute the officers who attended this and dealt with it as they did.
I also salute the phenomenal bravery shown by the public who really did demonstrate that “the police are the public” and showed incredible selflessness and compassion.
The incident at Woolwich needed to be dealt with once and dealt with right. Any other option than what actually happened would have increased the risk to police and the public greatly.
We can all wonder why it took 14 minutes for the ARV’s to arrive but we must remember that the vast majority of police officers are not armed so it is statistically more likely for an unarmed officer to arrive first.
The other thing worth remembering (a point raised with me by @DorsetRachel) is that it appears that all the officers involved acted completely in accordance with their training and standard operating procedures.
There is always room to adapt an SOP as a situation develops but that is different from ignoring it or throwing it out of the window in order to “suck it and see.”
Mr Vaz appears to be suggesting the SOP be re-written for precisely this purpose.
There are some interesting decisions to be made on how such incidents are dealt with in future – I hope that common sense prevails.