Military and Police

Why Several European Countries Should Change Their Policy on Police Officers Carrying Firearms

By T.B Lefever:

I found myself sprinting down the sidewalk one night after a suspect I had stopped took off running from me when I approached him because I noticed he was running down the street looking over his shoulder as if he was running from something.  I had the element of surprise on my side and was able to get close to him in an unmarked vehicle.  I recognized his face from a BOLO poster hanging in the precinct but I could not remember what the crime was that he was wanted for.  One moment I’m an arm’s length away from the suspect and the next we’re off to the races.  After a good half mile of foot pursuit down a long road beside the train tracks, exhaustion had set in.  I got a lucky break and was able to holster my weapon before ripping him down off of a fence that he was trying to climb.  Once I had taken him into custody, I found a loaded .40 caliber pistol at the foot of the fence.  Seconds later I hear the units that had rushed to my aid being dispatched down the road to an armed robbery that had just occurred.  The dispatcher advised that a hysterical woman was on the line reporting she had just been the victim of a robbery where a pistol was stuck in her face by a man wearing a ski mask and the same clothes as the perp I was out with. Out came the ski mask from his pocket and I now knew what he was running from. The BOLO poster hanging back at the precinct was for several other armed robberies spanning three separate jurisdictions.  Later, I attempted to return the stolen belongings to the victim who was now at home.  When I got there, she wouldn’t open her bathroom door and take possession of them because she didn’t “trust the police”.  But that’s another story.

Days later, I’m speaking with a friend about the case.  Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m gloating about catching the bad guy when in walks his sister.  At this point she’s trivializing the part of the story that mentions my gun being out of its holster.  She tells me that cops in Europe wouldn’t react that way. I’ve heard variations of this claim that cops don’t carry guns in Europe made on Facebook many times, but this was the first time I heard it in person.

Cops do carry firearms in most European countries. Those where they do not include Norway, Iceland, Ireland, Britain, and New Zealand.  In these countries, only specialized units or rapid response teams are equipped to respond when necessary.  For example, the tiny nation of Iceland deploys “Viking Squads” to handle violent situations.  Most other European countries have weaponized police similar to our force here in the states.

With the influx of terrorist activity all across Europe in the past several years, it can be argued that it would behoove European police agencies to revamp policy in such a way as to surpass the armament of their US counterparts.  As we saw in the “Charlie Hebdo Massacre” in January of last year, two unarmed Parisian officers were shot and killed by Al Qaeda terrorists wielding Kalashnikov AK-47’s.  Three other officers immediately fled for their lives because they had no ability to counter the attack.  The French Police Nationale have a policy of making the carrying of firearms a matter of personal preference for their approximate 150,000 man force.

The deadly massacre of 76 Norwegians in Oslo at a summer camp back in 2011 exposed the vulnerability of citizens in countries with strictly restricted police forces where firearms are concerned.  Mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik was able to go on an hours-long shooting rampage that took the lives of dozens of children, teachers, and one unarmed officer.  The lack of response and ability to intervene on the part of the Norwegian Police Service prompted the question of whether or not officers should carry weapons more proactively. As policy stands today, only patrol officers working the beat are permitted to possess pistols, though they are mandated to keep them locked and unloaded in the trunk of their vehicle and can only ready them when authorized by a superior.  With violent crime on the rise in the tiny Scandinavian country, will we see a reactive restructuring of this policy?

Reverting back to the example of my fleeing armed robber, I would say it was a good thing my weapon was not locked in the trunk of a vehicle when I gave chase.  Only a crazy man would chase an armed felon with no pistol of his own.  While many countries in Europe are free to set their own policies that are often shaped by a lower violent crime rate than what we have here in the US, I’d still rather have one and not need it then need one and not have it.

T.B Lefever is an OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University.



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