I’ve just seen all the newspaper headlines about the Met officer who shot a thief a couple of days ago – and who may or may not have been one of those who shot Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell last July. I can’t help thinking the coverage is deeply unfair, even by tabloid standards.
(Clearly at this stage there may be more to this story so I’m running the risk of being pre-emptive here, but I’m going to say it anyway.)
You’re part of a police armed response unit (the clue’s in the name, I’d have thought). You’re called to the scene of an armed robbery, where you catch a gang in the middle of said robbery. You tell them to put down their weapons and lie face down on the floor, but instead of doing that, one fella jumps up, waving a sawn off shotgun around, with which he then tries to shoot you.
What would you do? I tell you without hesitation that, if I were that copper, I’d do what I was trained for and shoot at him in an effort to protect the lives of other innocent people.
I’m hardly the world’s biggest fan of the police, but I do think that the bloke in question has a right to do his job – and that was what he was doing, end of story. This ‘De Menezes officer murders again’ stuff is completely unfair and completely distasteful, in my view.
What happened to Jean Charles de Menezes was obviously a hideous balls up and is probably one of the worst black spots on the Met’s record – I don’t think many people really deny that. But that is quite clearly a separate issue, bearing no relation to a police officer’s actions when being shot at with a sawn off shotgun.
Moreover, it’s vital that it is treated as such if we are still going to have armed police in operation on London’s streets. It would be nice if we didn’t need them (and plenty of people would argue that we shouldn’t have them, which makes this whole argument null and void – hey ho). Point is, if we’re going to employ armed coppers, we can’t have it both ways: we can’t ask for the security of armed protection on the streets, and then crucify said armed police when they are forced to make the horrible, difficult decisions we rely upon them to make (and in so doing, by the by, routinely putting themselves in the kind of danger we wouldn’t begin to entertain). If we want a worst-case scenario like the one on Tuesday never to occur, then we shouldn’t arm our police and train them to deal with desperate situations in that manner. Don’t give police officers the tools to deal with an armed situation in such a way, and then vilify them on the very rare and extreme circumstances on which they do just that.
The bloke’s a copper, he has a gun and he has been trained to use it. We can’t reasonably question his motivations every single time he takes a shot - particularly bearing in mind that this is the first time he’s been involved with a shooting since the Stockwell killing over a year ago - he’s not exactly been trigger happy, if you consider how many armed criminal situations he will have seen since then. If we do question this individual’s decision at every step then we’ll leave him with no option but to give up his job, and his colleagues with no option but to doubt themselves and the public’s confidence in them. Maybe that’s the tabloid intention, who knows – frankly if it fills space, most papers aren’t bothered about the wider implications of their reportage.
Nonetheless, regardless of your views on what went on in Stockwell, or your views on coppers generally, it ain’t right for anyone in ANY profession to be hounded out of a job via ‘trial by tabloid’.