This week the club visited the West Yorkshire Police Training & Development Centre at Carr Gate, Wakefield. Firearms commander Superintendent Pat Casserly gave us a comprehensive briefing, assisted by firearms trainer Marcus Banks and Public Order co-ordinator Charles McKenzie. The purpose-built Training Hub opened three years ago, and is one of only three training centres in the UK. It is well equipped with buildings and firing ranges to simulate as realistically as possible the challenging environments in which police have to operate. Cuts have reduced manpower by 107 officers in the last year, although since the terrorist attacks in Paris, firearms training has been expanded and efficiency savings have made up the shortfall.
We were given some interesting firearms statistics. A few at random: there are more incidents involving firearms in West Yorkshire than North and South Yorkshire combined; only 3% of the police force are armed, and only 5% of firearms officers are women; there are 8 armed response vehicles continuously on patrol in West Yorkshire; the area with most active violent armed criminals in West Yorkshire is Huddersfield; in spite of that threat, it has only been necessary for 32 rounds to have been discharged in the last 5 years, and most of those have been directed at Americans: Pit Bull Terriers.
We were shown an awesome arsenal of firearms available to the police. Although controversial, we were told that there is no doubt that equipping the police with tasers has saved many lives, enabling dangerous people to be safely brought under control in circumstances where otherwise firearms would have had to be used.
On the public order front, we were shown various ways of smashing down doors. The relatively unsophisticated battering ram known as the Enforcer [called the ‘Ovenden Key’ in Happy Valley] delivers 2½ tons of pressure. Getting in through the window is usually a cheaper option, and can be safely achieved with explosives that turn the glass to powder.
The riot shields, in use since the days of the Roman centurions, were surprisingly light and adaptable.
But although it was fascinating to see the equipment and techniques available to the police, what really impressed us was the calm, patient and thoughtful professionalism of the officers we met. They accepted the importance of upholding the right to peaceful protest. They stressed that communication skills are the key to defusing potential violence. The modern British police response to crowd control is far removed from the baton wielding that we saw during the Euro football competition in France.
We left Carr Gate reassured that, in the dangerous world in which we live, a lot of careful thought by professional people is being taken to keep us all safe.
Many thanks to Mike Fox for arranging such an interesting outing.