The officer stabbed in Wednesday’s terror attack in London was unarmed, like more than 90 percent of the British police force.
Ketih Palmer, 48, was stabbed to death while guarding the entrance to the British Houses of Parliament unarmed. Just 2,800 out of London’s 31,075 police officers are armed, which the police force considers a safety measure.
A cornerstone principle of the Metropolitan Police in London is that guns send the wrong message to communities by provoking crime rather than preventing it. Most officers are only equipped with batons, handcuffs, a mace and in some cases, stun-guns. A small number of specially-trained officers are the only ones carrying guns on patrol. These include counterterrorism police and some officers in high-risk areas like the Parliament.
While countries such as Germany, France and Belgium have put more armed officers on the streets in response to a wave of terror attacks around the continent, the United Kingdom has maintained its “policing by consent” approach to security. The Metropolitan Police increased the number of armed officers by 600 after the truck attack in Nice last July, but the total number is still a mere 9 percent of the entire force.
“Our neighborhood officers — the ones who know their streets, who know their environment and who know many of the names of the people in their communities — are our major weapon. They are our eyes and ears on the street,” Bernard Hogan-Howe, the previous commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said in 2016, adding that it “gives us a far healthier relationship with the people we police.”
Wednesday’s attack sparked a debate among lawmakers about whether security needs to be enhanced around government buildings, particularly the “weak spot” where Palmer was killed.
“It’s a terrible, terrible day for Parliament, the one weak spot on our estate is those carriage gates,” member of the House of Commons Mary Creagh told The Telegraph. “We have four police officers there, two on the gate going in, two on the gate going out, we see them every day, we are friends with lots of them.”
Former Minister Ian Duncan Smith asked why an armed officer wasn’t assigned to the gate, saying it was a “little bit of a surprise that there was not.”
France put thousands of armed soldiers on the streets after suffering two terror attacks in 2015. The approach may have prevented a terror attack Feb. 3 at the Louvre Museum. A man tried to enter the shopping center at the museum with two briefcases. He pulled out two machetes when he was refused entry and attacked a soldier, shouting, “Allahu akbar.” Another soldier responded by opening fire against the attacker.