The bobbies – the name given to the Metropolitan Police – were created in 1829 by Home Secretary Robert Peel at a time when the military was feared. The police force, at its core, was, and still is, seen to serve the community and fight crime by consent, rather than to serve the state. That’s why bobbies were given a smart blue uniform, not red, the color of the militia’s. Even today, they can be seen in Prussian helmets carrying, notably, batons not guns.
The threat of terrorism, not to mention the number of guns flourishing on the black market, has sparked a recurring national debate about whether Britain’s police should begin to carry firearms. But the police themselves have been the first to oppose such a move, even in the heat of the London bombings in 2005. A survey by the Police Federation in 2006, the latest available, found that 82 percent of its 47,238 members did not want officers to be routinely armed on duty, despite almost half saying their lives had been “in serious jeopardy” during the previous three years.
“Having police officers patrolling neighborhoods and being routinely armed could be seen as a more military type of police service, which is unlikely to be supported by either the police or the public,” says Steve White, a former firearms officer and chair of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.