The potential dangers police officers face in the line of duty were laid bare this week following the fatal shooting of two female police officers.
For Paul Beshenivsky, widower of PC Sharon Beshenivsky who was shot dead during a robbery at a Bradford travel agents in 2005, this week’s incident in Manchester brought back the devastation he felt when Sharon never returned home from her shift.
The 38-year-old mother-of-three was shot and killed on her youngest daughter’s fourth birthday as she responded to an alarm call. Her colleague, PC Teresa Milburn, was wounded.
The policewomen, who were wearing anti-stab vests but were unarmed, were patrolling problem crime areas when the call came through asking for a unit to respond to a personal attack alarm.
On Tuesday, constables Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23, were also unarmed when they responded to what appeared to be a routine burglary report in Hattersley, Manchester. They were attacked with a gun and a grenade.
Soon after the attack, Dale Cregan, 29, who was being hunted in connection with separate gun and grenade attacks that killed a father and son, walked into a nearby police station.
The incident has prompted Paul Beshenivsky to call for all police officers to be armed. He says that in other countries, such as Spain, France and Germany, police carry guns and he believes it leads to greater respect for officers.
“We should be moving with the times along with other countries,” Mr Beshenivsky told the Telegraph & Argus. “Police officers here, their hands are tied due to do-gooders and bureaucracy.”
Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, Sir Peter Fahy, said it is routine to send unarmed officers to a burglary call. He said his force believed “passionately” that police should remain unarmed.
The Association of Chief Police Officers president, Sir Hugh Orde, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, echoed his comments, saying: “It is the clear view of the British police service from top to bottom that officers prefer to be unarmed because the public dislike approaching constables bearing weapons.
“Minimum use of force and intervention is the bedrock of Britain’s policing model.
“Policing is a risky business. Each day officers respond to calls not knowing what they will get to and not knowing exactly what they will be dealing with when they arrive.
“It’s just a harsh fact of policing and, tragically on occasions, things go horribly wrong.”
Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus in 2006, PC Teresa Milburn said if she and PC Beshenivsky had been armed it would not have made any difference.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, also rejected calls to routinely arm police and warned against any knee-jerk response to the tragedy.
He said arming police would carry “considerable risks” and could damage relations between police and the communities they serve.
Mr Clegg said the officers’ deaths this week were a “heartbreaking reminder” of the “courage, the bravery and professionalism that police officers show up and down the country every day of every week of every month of every year.”
But he told reporters he didn’t think it was time to rush to instant judgments and was a time for mourning and support for the family and friends of the two women who have been killed. We have a long tradition in this country, which is a great tradition, of policing in the community, of the police being part of the public and the public supporting and giving their consent to the police,” he said. “I think if we were, in an instant, to, in a sense, arm our police to the teeth so they become separate from the public, that would be quite a big change which would have considerable risks attached to it.
“I think it is the kind of thing that you need to look at very carefully and certainly not, even though I know emotions are running high, in an instant way after this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
Mr Beshenivsky said news of the officers’ deaths sent a shiver down his back, thinking what their families would have to cope with in the aftermath of such mindless actions. “I just feel for the families,” he said. “It is just senseless.”