Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to spend time with armed Surrey Police officers and then sit in on the county’s Incident Handling Centre. I watched how police deal with incidents across Surrey which were life-changing to the people involved. I have written many times before about policing and my impressions from observing their training sessions. Viewing in real time how police keep Surrey safe is something which everyone who aspires to be an MP should do. It was eye-opening for me.
Armed police in Surrey carry out the counter terrorism function here so security is tight and I will respect their request not to identify operational officers and tactics.
I visited the operational armed policing base in Guildford and had the opportunity to speak to officers, learn about tactics and handle the weapons and equipment armed officers use. An ARV is an Armed Response Vehicle which carries the specialist officers on patrol continuously. The question of whether ARVs should be sent to routine police jobs was what started my investigation.
In the last few days, US police have been in the news for shooting an unarmed black teenager and a child with a toy gun. The militarisation of police in the USA has trampled civil rights and leaves many people living in an effective police state. This hasn’t happened here and from what I have seen, there are no signs of it in Surrey yet.
Can you guess how many police were on duty across Surrey last night? And how many of those are armed? I won’t reveal the exact numbers but it’s fewer than you think. There are 1.2 million residents in Surrey and a very small number of police cover the whole area.
Being a police officer is not an easy job. I can vouch that wearing body armour and a helmet is uncomfortable and the weapons and ammunition feel heavy after a while too. They have to go anywhere, there can be no no-go areas for police. Police pay and pensions have been squeezed and they have to work longer before they retire. The sergeant who I accompanied yesterday might have been a teacher and had an outlook on life typical of many public servants: a desire to give something back to society and protect the vulnerable.
Like all public servants, police deserve to be properly led and fairly rewarded.
It is important that Surrey Police and other forces are funded appropriately. However, I hope that Council Tax is not raised again to compensate for central government cuts. Council Tax is a regressive tax and working people are already squeezed by the cost of living crisis in Guildford.
Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were supposed to bear down on inefficiencies, not simply raise tax by the maximum allowed and spend it all. Abolishing PCCs would save millions which could be spent on policing.
Yesterday, I saw examples of firearms which have been seized or handed in by the public. I would like to see fewer firearms in circulation in Surrey, including legally held ones. Recently, legally held guns have been used to murder people in this county so I would like police to be able to charge the full cost of issuing shotgun certificates, for example.
Following police officers at their work has helped me appreciate the pressures they are under. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that police should tackle crime, and that’s all. However, I witnessed police being called on in Surrey to save people who were in pain emotionally and needed help which only police could provide in time. Contrast that with the news today about the former Conservative Chief Whip verbally abusing the armed police officer who was protecting him.
Thank you to Surrey Police, especially the sergeant who escorted me and the inspector in charge of the IHC, for being so open and allowing me to witness your work. I feel reassured and impressed by the people who are quietly keeping us all safe in Surrey tonight.