Eight minutes. It’s not a lot of time.
Yet it was enough for a police Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) to rush to the scene of last week’s terrorist attack on London Bridge, and for armed police officers to neutralise three terrorists on a terrifying rampage around Borough Market.
I am convinced that this speedy and resolute response saved lives. I also believe that there are few cities in the world where the police would be able to respond as quickly.
The number of ARVs that routinely patrol London and other British cities was increased after the November 2015 attacks in Paris. The bravery of the individuals in the ARV that responded to last week’s attack is staggering. The terrorists wore imitation explosive vests, yet these officers approached them on foot and prevented them from taking many more innocent lives.
A British Transport Police officer also fought the terrorists with just his baton, and later claimed that “like every police officer who responded, I was simply doing my job.” Of course, police officers are highly trained and skilled. I can even understand their claim that the training ‘just kicks in.’ But it cannot mask their devotion to public service.
Now, the subject of police numbers and funding came up in the general election, especially after the three recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.
Yet behind calls for “more bobbies on the beat” lies the truth that the world has changed. Police numbers are indeed lower, but I would suggest that the major crimes that threaten society today – whether terrorism, serious crime or cyber-crime – require a specialist police approach. Much of this work is undertaken online by specialist officers. It involves monitoring terrorist chatter in online newsrooms and forums. It certainly relies on the ARVs that proved so effective one week ago. Funding should continue to support these areas of policing.
In effect, the police are being asked to work smarter, but with fewer resources. To this end they need to engage with all sources of support available to them. I am therefore very proud that the work of our colleagues alongside the Metropolitan Police during the recent Westminster Bridge terrorist attack was recognised by Lambeth’s Borough Commander.
The attack in March left four people dead and over 50 injured. Our colleagues, members of the South Bank Patrol team, were among the first people to arrive at the scene of the attack, helping the injured, cordoning off the area and liaising with all the security and emergency services.
Examples like this demonstrate the support that the private security sector can provide to the police, and show the contribution that it too makes to keeping the public safe. This cooperation will only grow in importance given the continued stress on public finances and the increased threat of terrorism.