Our survey on firearms officers produced a huge response. We normally receive a few hundred responses to our polls. This time we received more than 7000.
What can I tell from this survey? The first thing is to acknowledge the limitations. Internet polls have some great advantages. They are free. They are easy. They are quick. But they have disadvantages too. They are hard to control. You cannot assess who is responding. They are not scientific.
This one, like others we have run, aimed to get a sense of how the public saw the question of firearms officers carrying out routine duties. It followed questions from the public and a similar controversy in Scotland.
I have published the results on my office website here. The conclusions I draw from these, combined with the correspondence, conversations with the public and online comments are as follows.
There is huge public interest in this topic, with strong views on both sides. The volume of responses and national media coverage tell that much.
People acknowledge the need for armed officers. Most are prepared to support the policy of using them for routine duties when not responding to armed incidents. This response is similar to the response in Scotland, where 53% backed the policy.
Many respondents were alarmed by their own experience of seeing armed officers, or by the thought of them. The presence of armed officers in everyday environments is not always reassuring.
Police policies need much better explanation and consultation. I cannot find any evidence of public consultation when Dyfed Powys adopted new regional policies in 2012. I am not aware of consultation elsewhere for similar policies. The public’s voice needs to be heard.
Why does this matter? It matters because public trust underpins everything the police do. There may be good operational reasons why armed officers conduct routine patrols, but they only carry those arms with the consent of the public.
As budgets shrink and fears about terrorism grow, we are likely to face more pressure to use specialist officers on routine work. How far do we want that to go?
That is not a question for the police alone. The public must have their say.