June 12, 2016

What we could learn from British bobbies

Griff White, Washington Post

To join the few and the proud who police Britain’s streets with a gun, first you have to walk the beat unarmed for years.

Then there is the rigorous selection process — an unforgiving complement of fitness tests, psychological appraisals and marksmanship exams. Finally, there is the training, which involves endless drilling on even the most routine scenarios.

“They rehearse those situations like a SEAL team trying to get into Osama bin Laden’s compound,” Cambridge University criminologist Lawrence Sherman said.

Yet, in a country where the vast majority of police officers patrol with batons and pepper spray, the elite cadre of British cops who are entrusted with guns almost never use them. Police in Britain have fatally shot two people in the past three years.

That’s less than the average number of people shot and killed by police every day in the United States over the first five months of 2015, according to a Washington Post analysis.

As the United States reckons with that toll — and with the constant drip of videos showing the questionable use of force by officers — lightly armed Britain might seem an unorthodox place to look for solutions. But experts say the way British bobbies are trained, commanded and vigorously scrutinized may offer U.S. police forces a useful blueprint for bringing down the rate of deadly violence and defusing some of the burning tension felt in cities from coast to coast.


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