Police use of force, firearms and riot-control

Authored by: P.A.J. Waddington , Martin Wright

Handbook of Policing

Print publication date:  August  2008
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9781843925002
eBook ISBN: 9780203118238
Adobe ISBN: 9781136308529


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It has long been accepted in police research that the capacity to use force is central to the police role. Whether it is a uniquely defining characteristic has recently been questioned by scholars who see the policing landscape as increasingly ‘pluralised’ with a growing number of public and private agencies sharing the capacity to employ force in order to provide security (Jones and Newburn 2006). However, whilst it is undoubtedly true that the police have never enjoyed exclusivity in the use of legitimate force (generations of parents, teachers, landowners, and others in the past freely used force in certain circumstances), it was and remains clear that no person or organisation can legitimately exceed the capacity of the police to use force. If they did, then the capacity of the state to impose its will upon its civil population would be jeopardised. It is virtually inconceivable that anyone other than a police officer could perfectly legitimately lie in wait and shoot a suspected wrongdoer. Even in a notionally unarmed policing system such as that in England, Wales and Scotland the patrolling constable is routinely equipped with weapons that are prohibited to other citizens. This is even more starkly apparent in Northern Ireland, whose police have traditionally routinely carried firearms, and continue to do so. What weapons are made available to the police and how they use them is a topic of public concern and often political controversy. In this chapter we will chart past and current developments in the weapons that police use, the policies governing their use, and tactics officially endorsed, focusing mainly on mainland Britain.

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