The police are being militarised – should we be worried?

Martin Innes writes for The Conversation

Faced by a wave of public concern, the Metropolitan Police has “paused” its planned trial of what it refers to as “spit guards”, but which journalists have dubbed “spit hoods”. These wire mesh devices are placed over the head of a detainee as part of physical restraint procedures to stop them spitting at officers and are already used by several UK police forces.

Some police officers support such equipment on the grounds that being spat at is deeply unpleasant, and in a small number of cases, can put them at risk of contracting diseases. But others worry about what this portends for the conduct of policing in the UK and its traditional ideals.

This is, after all, the latest in a series of recent measures altering how the police practise their legal powers to apply coercive force. For example, in response to an increased terror threat, a process is underway to “uplift” the number of armed police officers in London and across the country – with 1,500 new firearms officers promised for England and Wales – as well as a review of their tactics.

A procurement exercise is currently underway for the next generation of “conductive electric devices”, or “tasers”. And within policing circles a debate is ongoing about which officers should carry these “less than lethal weapons”, as currently not all do.

Appropriate force? Police during the 2010 student protests. Shutterstock

Alongside altering their equipment, police forces have been changing their officers’ look – foregoing the shirt and tunic of previous generations, for more functional dark shirts, cargo trousers, heavy boots and routinely issued stab vests. For officers in more specialist roles such as firearms and public order teams, these fashion trends are even more accentuated. Officers themselves describe it as dressing like a “ninja turtle”. The Metropolitan Police’s new anti-terror unit has a distinctly military look – with the hardware to match.

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