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Scrutiny
  
Do police need to pile up on arms?
Various studies have established that arming the police has little effect on their safety or on crime levels generally. Instead of arming the police, the focus should be on strengthening the relationship between community and cops
30/06/2013

The world over there has been a gradual shift from keeping a police force that is heavily armed to one that is unarmed or partially-armed. Underlying this shift is the motive to make the police more humane and prevent it from using excessive force under conditions of threat and duress. Not only is the new model becoming increasingly popular, the fresh guidelines of using minimum force have proved to be effective in bringing down casualties during outbreak of clashes. A case in point is the army law passed five years ago that restricts one-third of the CRPF personnel from carrying any sorts of arm and two-thirds from toting any firearm at all in Jammu & Kashmir. It has been found that deaths and encounter killings in the valley have come down drastically ever since the law came into effect.

In light of such encouraging results, policymakers are increasingly veering round to the view than an armed gendarmerie is less approachable, more threatening, and tends to provoke fear rather than respect among citiizens. Various studies have established that arming the police has little effect on their safety or on crime levels generally. Genuine protection is not offered by weaponry, but by the conditions in which the police carry out their task.

In the entire UK, except for Northern Ireland, possession of firearms by police officers in public places is generally prohibited. Police officers are discouraged from carrying firearms to make them more approachable by common citizens. Instead of firearms, police officers in the UK carry speed-cuffs, truncheon or ASP’s telescoping baton, and sprays such as pelargonic acid vanillylamide or tear gas. Within London’s Metropolitan Police, out of a force of 33,000, only around 2,700 officers are authorized to carry guns. Over 80% of British police officers say that despite increasing levels of violent crime, they don’t want to see all officers armed.


As in the UK, in New Zealand too, carrying firearms by police officers publicly is not allowed. Police do not carry firearms during patrolling but are provided with batons and sprays. After 2008, non-lethal tasers (an electroshock weapon) were provided to police officers. In order to reduce misuse of such equipment, tasers were later fitted with cameras. Public opinion polls in New Zealand always place police close to the top of organisations in which the public has the most faith and trust. Similarly, in Norway, only officers in the top four ranks of police hierarchy can carry firearms. Police officers belonging in the top ranks are also generally unarmed during conventional patrolling, but can keep their firearms inside their vehicles. The patrolling police needs to compulsorily take consent and clearance from senior authorities even for unlocking their firearms.

However, the gun-culture obsessed USA has a police force that is heavily armed and equipped with lethal weapons. The results are there for everyone to see. The US easily has the dubious record for having the highest rate of police brutality cases in the developed world. In 2009 and 2010, the reported cases of police misconduct increased from 4,778 to 6,826 respectively in America. Use of excessive force accounted for 18.2% of the total cases of police misconduct in 2009 and 23.8% in 2010. Deaths arising out of police violence in the two given years accounted for 258 and 247 cases respectively. While 505 people died in police custody in the two given years alone in the US, only around 400 people have died in a similar fashion in the UK in past 10 years, while in Canada there were no deaths in police custody in 2010 and only 2 cases of injury from police action were reported that year.

If figures are any indicators, there is a direct relationship between arming the police and the excesses they commit on civilians. In India, cops in different cities follow different models in terms of the armour they carry. For instance, the police force in Kolkata follows the UK model of carrying less arms than, say, the Delhi Police that follows the heavily armed American model. But while there may be certain advantages to having a militarized police to fight and combat terrorist operations and insurgency situations, there’s increased advocacy for an unarmed force, especially in communally and ethnically sensitive areas where the chances of collision between the police and the people are high. A less militarized police force brings down the chances of showdowns and casualties in such situations. On the other hand, an armed police can have a chilling effect on any effort to strengthen the relationship between the community and the cops. And there’s no justification for them having firearms, for one obvious reason, and that is if they have it, they will find a way to use it. And if they use it they will misuse it for sure.

By:- Sray Agarwal
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