Friday, July 27, 2007

Armed and extremely dangerous...

At the Police Open Day at Carr Gate, members of the Firearms Support Unit were on hand to show us their equipment, let us hold them and ask questions. Needless to say, most of the audience were boys. The Officers showed us their protective wear, including flak jackets with removable ceramic inserts for absorbing the impact of high velocity rounds. They also had baton rounds, also known as "rubber bullets", although they are generally made of plastic. I've seen them before but they are surprisingly large, blunt and apparently painful. (If used incorrectly they can be lethal).

In order to become a Firearms Officer the Police have to undertake intensive and vigorous training and the use of weapons is always regarded as a last resort. Police don't shoot to kill, they shoot to stop- aiming for the central body mass. (Of course, that can be lethal if vital organs are damaged. Someone asked about shooting people in the legs but the reply was that it was hard to hit people in the legs, you had to be a very good shot.) They had two types of weapons on show, a Glock pistol made in Austria and the short semi-automatic gun that had the legend "for law enforcement/ military use only" engraved in the side. (That'll frighten off the criminals).
Interestingly, the weaponry on show varied when we walked past as it had to be locked in the Police Car Safes when the assigned Officers were on breaks. Two other more mundane items were also part of the armoury- an immediate method of entry door buster (a sort of in-line hammer/battering ram) and an extensive first aid kit. No bullets were in evidence other than the baton round, although paint balling was happening nearby. What was creating some interest, however, was the Taser. (According to Wikipedia, Taser stands for Thomas A Swift's Electric Rifle, follow the link to see why). The tazer looked a bit like a toy but the Officer assured me that it was the most horrible experience you could have in life. He had received it once in training and he had no desire to do it again. To use it, a clip on disposible blue box is fitted and when triggered, it fires two tiny barbs which drag tiny filament wires behind them. When they make contact, a very high voltage (about 30,000 Volts but a very small current) temporarily disables the victim. The BBC have a video of the Chief Constable of Manchester agreeing to be tasered in 2005, you can watch it here. With the cartridge off, the officer demonstrated firing the weapon and large sparks jumped between the terminals. The advice from New Scientist to avoid getting tasered is to wear medieval armour, although they haven't tried it!

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