Tuesday, 19 February 2019
In The Line Of Fire With Ross Kemp
Thu 28 Feb 2019
9.00pm - 10.00pm
“It’s so difficult - you’re looking into a darkened car, it’s night-time conditions, you’ve got a little light on the end of your gun, and you’re searching the entire people in that car to make sure they’re all reacting as they should. And if they’re not, what are they doing? Are they hiding something, or are they reaching for a weapon to shoot you with it? And you’ve got to make that split-second decision.” - Pc Clive, South Yorkshire Police armed officer
Part of ITV’s Crime & Punishment strand, this new documentary fronted by Ross Kemp, goes inside tactical firearms teams and out on the beat with officers to investigate whether or not all police should be armed.
For last year's ITV documentary Ross Kemp And The Armed Police, he was given exclusive access to specialised armed police units, and in this follow-up film he goes on the frontline with officers whose experiences of being confronted with lethal weapons have been captured on their body cameras to ask whether police at any level can be left unarmed today.
With armed officers now a more regular presence on Britain’s streets, in stations and at airports, Ross goes out on a raid with a mobile undercover unit used to tackle new dangers with pre-emptive and confrontational tactics. He also gains exclusive access to their military-style training facility.
First, he sees how two unarmed officers deal with a violent man who is threatening them with a kitchen knife, revisiting the scene with two constables, Alex and Debbie, of Northamptonshire Police. After pepper spray proved ineffective against the man who they suspected had taken cocaine, he was restrained with the use of batons. Debbie says: “I honestly thought that Alex was going to be killed, and I tried everything within my power to protect Alex and get some kind of control over this male. At the end of the day Alex and I have worked together a long time, he’s like family to me… If it came to having to use a firearm or wanting to leave the force, I would take the firearm.”
Ross goes out with a covert MASST (Mobile Armed Support To Surveillance Team) on the trail of an individual they suspect has a gun in the West Midlands. After waiting several hours for the raid, then arresting the man using aggressive tactics, one of the anonymous officers says: “We’ll get intelligence from that tonight, and it puts them on the back foot, because they don’t know when the next strike’s going to come, and occasionally we get the intelligence and we get lucky, we get a good seizure of drugs and or firearms and then we’re able to put them in prison and protect the public, which is what we’re here to do.”
Ross asks Dave Sturman, West Midlands Police’s detective superintendent in charge of the team, whether using aggressive tactics and 15 armed officers on one raid is overkill. He says: “Firearms tactics can on the face of it seem to quite aggressive but that is designed with a purpose to get control quickly. You need that domination effect to make it absolutely clear to the opposition that we are in charge and we are going to take them into custody. One of the key factors here is to put the fear back on to them that they are going to get caught and convicted, we must do that if we are going to suppress this problem properly.”
Det Supt Sturman also says the problem is escalating and that the force has had 16 firearms discharges in the last month. Ross visits a counter-terror police training base for the first time - designed to instil military-style tactics into everyday police officers. Ross watches as officers use explosives to gain access to a building and acts as a hostage in a practice raid. Before the officers burst in using stun grenades, Ross says: “It’s actually tense doing this, I mean I know what’s about to happen. Can you imagine what in a real hostage situation they’d actually feel?”
Ross asks one of the officers if he had imagined ever doing such extreme training. The anonymous officer says: “This is a very high-end tactic that you’ve seen us do. The very next day we could be dealing with relatively low-level gun crime, and we go into places that have got plenty of innocent people in there - friends, family, associates - and we still need those policing skills to be able to deal with those people as well. So it’s not always at that level.”
Ross joins Pc Jemma Follows on the beat in Northampton, who says she doesn’t believe all police should be armed - despite an almost daily barrage of assaults. She tells him about the time in late 2017 when she faced down a man who pointed a gun at her - later discovered to be an imitation firearm. Ross asks her if she would have shot him if she was carrying a firearm. She says: “I would have most likely have shot him. That would have been purely because at that moment that gun was pointed at me and I thought for a moment that I’m going to be shot.”
Ross interviews Simon Chesterman, the national lead on armed policing, who says he believes if the threat level continues to increase, all officers could end up being armed, partly down to public and media pressure to act. He says if there are more armed police, it will inevitably lead to more police shooting incidents. He says: “Ultimately, they don’t discharge firearms very often, these are not trigger-happy people. However if you put more armed officers out there, inevitably we’re going to get to more high-risk incidents quicker, and the chances are we will see more police shootings.”
Ross also interviews constables Rob and Gary from Northamptonshire Police, who were involved in an incident that left Rob fighting for his life after being stabbed in the leg with a sword, piercing his femoral artery, which was depicted on their body cams. The man was arrested - but Rob says it could have ended differently if they had been armed. He says: “Certainly colleagues that I have spoken to on the armed response units have said if that had been any one of us there on that night, and received the injury in that way, we’d have drawn our pistols and shot.”
But he explains he wouldn’t want all officers to be armed - just more to be trained in using guns. He says: “The number of incidents that we’re now seeing involving gang violence, they’re carrying guns and yet we’re still deploying with a small can of pepper spray and a baton.”
Ross also meets constable Laura, who has just qualified as an armed officer after ten years on the South Yorkshire force, and is going on her first patrol with her colleague Clive, which results in a dramatic arrest. Ross asks how her family cope with her new role, and Laura says: “My son understands that mummy’s got a gun at work, and I don’t think it’s really sunk in that much at that age, but there will come a point where it will.”
This is a Renegade Pictures/Freshwater Films programme for ITV