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Chairman’s Blog: How cuts to the country’s armed police force are jeopardising public safety

Published: 20/11/2017

Eamon Keating, Chairman of the Defence Police Federation, questions why anyone would consider cutting firearms officer numbers when we face such a grave terrorist risk

The Ministry of Defence Police is the country’s armed police force. Why in the current climate – and with the current risks the whole country faces from terrorism – would we reduce our ability to respond to that threat and the very real risks? 

Why would we want to cut the numbers in the country’s armed police force?

The majority of our members are armed.

They pick their firearms up every day to go to work in the hope that they are not going to fire them, but the last year has definitely shown that even in the most secure locations, that may well occur.

No target is off limits.

We should be there to keep the public safe. To keep the sites we protect safe.

We are getting to a point where there is a real risk that when our members are needed to fire their guns to protect people in this country, they will not be there.

The Ministry of Defence Police is currently approximately 2,700 police officers strong, but cuts of between £9 and £15 million proposed by the Government will see it shrinking to less than 2,300.

If we reduce those numbers, the only risk really being taken is by the public and the officers that are deployed, not by the politicians and civil servants that make the decision to reduce budgets, because they’re not on the frontline.

The attack on Westminster demonstrates that individuals will attack the most secure of sites, and the sites that Ministry of Defence officers police are incredibly vulnerable if that type of attack were to take place.

But our numbers are below the levels that every security expert in that field suggests are the minimum levels.

We are currently working at a level of maximum risk on a daily basis and going beyond that is unacceptable.

Not only do we protect some incredibly high profile sites across the country, we are also the country’s armed police force.

If you look at the number of firearms officers across England and Wales, and if you take the Metropolitan Police out of it, our numbers are larger than all of the other 42 forces combined.

When you then look at the isolated areas where our officers work and the establishments that we protect, when you look at where they are and what the response from officers in rural or regional police forces would be to an incident should it not occur in London… well it’s absolutely essential that we are able to assist in a potential armed response.

We are currently risking that response being eroded. And that is jeopardising public safety.

We need MPs who represent rural constituencies to realise this.

If a terrorist attack takes place in an area other than the metropolitan cities – and we plough ahead with these cuts - the risk is much greater because the armed response will be that much further away and that much smaller.

There is a huge risk that - I am afraid - armed officers won’t be there or that they’ll be there but in insufficient numbers and then they won’t be able to protect themselves, the establishments that they’re protecting, the personnel or the public.

Eamon Keating
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