(CN) - The British Army has offered military support with armed policing on the streets on London, after a murder charge leveled against a police officer led to boycotts by armed police.
Firearms officers working in the capital city's police service, the Metropolitan Police, have been turning in their weapons licenses over the weekend in protest over the criminal proceedings against their colleague, known publicly only as NX121.
The protests follow the Crown Prosecution Service's decision, announced Friday, to press ahead with murder charges against NX121, who shot and killed Chris Kaba, 24, in south London last year.
Firearms officers are privately critical of the charges - only the second time a U.K. police officer has been charged with murder since 1990. A statement released by the Metropolitan Police said that "many are worried about how the decision impacts on them, on their colleagues and on their families. They are concerned that it signals a shift in the way the decisions they take in the most challenging circumstances will be judged."
The internal protests, which have built momentum over the weekend, have prompted a quick response from the British government. On Sunday night Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced an emergency review into armed policing, tweeting that firearms officers "have to make split-second decisions under extraordinary pressures. They mustn't fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties."
Firearms officers are relatively rare in Britain, generally deployed only in response to reports of gun crime. There are just under 2,600 armed police officers in London - far more than any other part of England, Scotland or Wales. However London-based firearms officers also play a central role in nationwide counterterrorism operations, giving them a strategic importance beyond straightforward neighborhood policing.
The government hopes the new emergency review will stem the tide of firearms officers turning in their licenses. But the review has faced criticism, including from a former director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald, who told the BBC that any suggestion of "additional protections for police officers over and above the normal protections which are available to all citizens, that's quite a tricky suggestion."
Prosecutors, he continued, "have to factor in very, very carefully, as I always did, the stress the police are under ... That's precisely why it's so rare, so vanishingly rare, for police officers to be charged in these circumstances."
The shooting of Kaba took place in September 2022 and prompted widespread protests within the Black community throughout London and across the U.K., with many protesters accusing police of targeting Kaba due to his skin color. Police say Kaba was targeted because he was driving a vehicle connected to a non-fatal shooting that had occurred the previous day.
The vehicle, which was being chased by an unmarked police car without lights or sirens, encountered a police roadblock, at which point Kaba was struck in the head by a single shot from a firearms officer. Kaba was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Police say Kaba was shot after he tried to use the vehicle to ram the roadblock, though some eyewitnesses dispute this, saying the vehicle was not moving when the shooting occurred.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct was responsible for investigating the case in the immediate aftermath, and in March decided to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service. The decision by the latter body to issue murder charges was welcomed by the Justice for Chris Kaba campaign last Friday, with Kaba's family releasing a statement saying: "Chris was so very loved by our family and all his friends. He had a bright future ahead of him, but his life was cut short. Our family and our wider community must see justice for Chris."
The relatively unusual decision to issue murder charges comes amid a period of attempted tightening of standards within the Metropolitan Police. A series of high-profile and public confidence-bruising scandals came to a head last year with the sacking of controversial police chief Cressida Dick.
In March this year, the Casey Report - a public inquiry commissioned to restore public confidence in the Met - published a number of critical findings, including that the police force was "institutionally racist, misogynist and homophobic," that bullying and predatory behavior was widely tolerated, and that a "culture of denial" meant any criticism was routinely dismissed, while those who complained faced "adverse consequences."
The Met was subsequently placed in special measures, and its activities are now being closely monitored by an independent inspectorate. Greater scrutiny of police behavior, and accountability for abuses of power, form part of the new management's attempts to restore public confidence.
The discontent among firearms officers comes within this context of stricter oversight and wider reforms to the Metropolitan Police and its procedures. But Commissioner Mark Rowley, who is leading the reforms, has expressed concern that prosecutions could interfere with policing tactics.
"Armed officers know they need to justify their actions, especially when lethal force is used," said Rowley in an open letter published on Sunday. "They are extremely well trained and an intrinsic part of their training reinforces that shots can only be fired if absolutely necessary to save life."
The criminal justice group Inquest has recorded 1,871 deaths "associated with police contact or custody" in the U.K. since 1990. Of those cases, 11 charges of murder or manslaughter have been pursued, with a single successful prosecution in 2021.
Source: Courthouse News Service