Last Updated 05 Mar 2020

Should the Police Be Armed?

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Unarming the police force

Most police officers in Norway, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland and some other countries are routinely unarmed whereas in the rest of the world they are routinely armed (Kelly & United States 2009, p17). In the United Kingdom, some officers like the ones involved in protecting diplomats or working for the anti-terrorism group and the border/airport security often carry firearms. The armed response officers can only be deployed if need arises and this is subject to certain protocols of authorization (Great Britain 2011, p69).

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In other countries like the United States, where the police force are armed, issues of police militarization, abuse of power and ethnic victimization often arise leading to calls for a reduction in police reliance on firearms (Jaquish 2006, p29). The police force should not carry firearms routinely as arming the police officers encourages the criminals to equally arm themselves with similar or even deadlier firearms (Brown & Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History 2012, p71). The use of arms should therefore only be applicable in certain special circumstances when particular situations demand so.

Police situation in the UK

The United Kingdom is composed of four countries namely England, Wales, Scotland (these three countries make up Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the police force is armed while in Great Britain the police force is unarmed except in certain special circumstances. Most police officers in the rest of the United Kingdom have other items for personal defence like incapacitant sprays, speedcuffs and extendable ASP baton (Breckler, Olson& Wiggins2006, p52). In Northern Ireland, the police forces routinely carry firearms while on duty. The police had to remain armed in order to deal with the continued threats of the rebellious republican paramilitaries. Britain police opted to take a different direction from that of America and the rest of Europe by declining to arm the police force routinely and this has managed to lower crime rates in the region (Kelly & United States 2009, p45.

The reasons for this stance are spelt out on Peel’s principles of policing. He argued that the police should not operate in the military style, as this would make people to walk in fear and distrust (Great Britain. (2011, p38) Peel said, “The police are civilians paid to give full time support to the interests of communal welfare and existence” (Great Britain 2011, p78). These arguments led to a style of policing that is heavily reliant on negotiation, contentment and use of force as the last resort. However, this does not seem to work smoothly as evidenced by the recent killing of police officers (Watson, S. (2011, p23). Although this type of policing has made Britain less violent compared to the countries where the police force is armed, it is coming at a cost, as the police officers are very vulnerable to the armed lawbreakers. However, despite such challenges this approach has managed to reduce crime rates and unnecessary shootings in the country (Alpert & Dunham 2004, p52).

Police situation in Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan, the police force is routinely armed and there are many cases of police shooting innocent people as a result. The major challenge facing the country is the continual increase in crime rates because the police force is understaffed. There are also many cases of police officers misusing their weapons leading to unnecessary deaths especially during the periods characterized by high political temperatures (Jaquish 2006, p92). In terms of security, Kazakhstan has more challenges in dealing with narcotics and violent crimes (Brown& Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History 2012, p77). The armed police force in the country has a lot of work to do in order to reduce human abuse and crime rates.

Police situation in the rest of the world

In most countries in the rest of the world like Canada, United States of America, Germany, china and the others, the police force is routinely armed (Watson 2011, p40). Violent crimes, unnecessary shootings, and police misuse of firearms characterize the situation in most of these countries. Holmes says, “These countries arm the police officers in order to deter criminal acts and protect the officers given that they are working in dangerous environments” (Holmes & Smith 2008, p90). They acknowledge the fact that many criminals are armed and as such, a failure to arm the police force routinely gives the criminals an upper hand in committing crimes without risking their lives. To some extent, this approach seems to work although it has many challenges that range from the police force misusing firearms, careless shootings to public fear of the police officers.

Unarming the police is the best way forward

Das says that “Although unarming police force often exposes the officers to risks while on duty, this should not be a premise for arming police officers” (Das & Verma 2003, p88). The government can look for other alternatives of reducing the risks facing the police without necessarily having to arm them. Arming the police and the citizens only leads to criminals also arming themselves with similar weapons in order to fight back when approached by a police officer (Holmes & Smith 2008, p54). Armed response should only come in if suspected terrorist or firearms are in progress in order to control unnecessary shootings. Police officers should use persuasion and not force when dealing with the members of the public in order to win their respect and trust.


Both armed and unarmed police forces have their own fair share of advantages and challenges although the latter is more advantageous than arming the police force. The public often reacts to situations depending on what they anticipate and as indicated in the paper, arming the police only leads to people arming themselves as well. The police force in Kazakhstan, United States and the rest of the world are armed but facing many challenges of violent crimes and misuse of firearms (Punch 2011, p64). Britain, on the other hand, has an unarmed police force and has relatively lower cases of shootings and violent crimes with the only major challenge being protection of the police officers. The UK government should therefore look for ways of strengthening the security of its officers while on duty without arming them.


Alpert, G. P., & Dunham, R. G. (2004). Understanding police use of force: Officers, suspects, and reciprocity. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Breckler, S. J., Olson, J. M., & Wiggins, E. C. (2006). Social psychology alive. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Brown, R. B., & Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. (2012). Arming and disarming: A history of gun control in Canada. Toronto [Ont.: University of Toronto Press.

Das, D. K., & Verma, A. (2003). Police mission: Challenges and responses. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press.

Great Britain. (2011). The Armed Forces Bill: Special report of session 2010-11. London: TSO.

Holmes, M. D., & Smith, B. W. (2008). Race and police brutality: Roots of an urban dilemma. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Jaquish, M. J. (2006). The role of the security officer: A comprehensive instruction manual of safety and security for the security profession in America. Denver, Colo: Outskirts Press.

Kelly, T. K., & United States. (2009). A stability police force for the United States: Justification and options for creating U.S. capabilities. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Arroyo Center. Punch, M. (2011). Shoot to kill: Police accountability, firearms and fatal force. Bristol, UK: Portland, OR.

Watson, S. (2011). A career as a police officer. New York, NY: Rosen Pub.

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