THE recent press reports that London's Metropolitan Police were running regular armed foot patrols and marksmen on motorcycles in gun-crime hotspots seemed to mark the end of the long-held principle of unarmed civilian policing in Britain. Fortunately, that is not the case. It seems that there had been plans for patrols of the kind mentioned in the reports but these had been formulated and announced without proper authority. When the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, learnt about the plans on his return from an official overseas visit he immediately ordered their withdrawal and gave the senior officers responsible a severe dressing down. He then issued a public statement: I wish it to be clear that there have not been any routine armed foot patrols, and nor will there be any. And he added: I am very proud of the unarmed civilian service tradition of the Metropolitan Police and am determined to uphold it.
Sir Paul's assurances are welcome, the more so because it has become clear that there are senior officers in the Met who would like to see armed police used more widely and are ready to try to act without higher authority. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who chairs the Police Authority had not been consulted about these developments. Sir Paul was therefore wise to say also that should it become necessary to extend armed deployments in the future it would be done only after full and robust consultation with all concerned.