More armed police will spread terror, not stop it
Scotland Yard has introduced 600 more armed police officers to patrol the streets of London. The move comes in response to growing fears of an ISIS-inspired attack on the streets of the capital. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said that increasing the number of armed police in London would make it as ‘hostile an environment as possible for any would-be attacker’.
At a glance, this seems reasonable enough. Over the past few months terrorists have struck several times in France and Germany. And just last week, in central London, a 19-year-old man went on a stabbing spree, killing one person and injuring five others. The police have since said that there is no evidence of a terrorist motive. But, as the news of the attack came through in the early hours of Thursday, it was difficult not to fear the worst. Furthermore, we are told that an attack on London remains highly likely, primarily because of the sheer number of ISIS fighters who have returned to Western Europe from Syria. In this climate, it is tempting to give the police some powerful weaponry to show the terrorists we are not to be trifled with.
Another seeming upside is that a more visible police force will settle the nerves of an anxious public. As Hogan-Howe put it: ‘That’s why I’m increasing the visibility and the number of armed officers on London’s streets, and demonstrating some of the range of tactics we already have to protect the public from all manner of threats.’
Yet the ‘visible’ presence of an armed police force will neither deter terrorists nor make people feel safer. ISIS-style terrorists expect to die, either at their own hands or at those of an armed response unit. Knowing that the police are only two minutes away as opposed to five minutes away is not going to put a terrorist off. And why would the public be reassured? An armed police force, clad in black military gear and carrying heavy weaponry, will promote paranoia and fear – that is, it will make people feel as if there really is something to be scared of.
So why exactly is the government boosting London’s armed police force? Because even though Western leaders are incapable of offering real solutions to terrorism, they remain desperate to show us that ‘something is being done’. This is not only a distraction, it’s dangerous. The militarisation of the police will not make us safer – but it will spread more fear among the public, which is precisely what ISIS wants.
Shaun Sharkey is a spiked intern.