By John Lamb, Lecturer in Criminology

Late last night an anonymous tip was given to West Midlands Police about a supposed plot to kidnap and kill a police officer. Rightly, a decision was made to recall officers to base and to brief them on this information. Coming on the back of an increase in the threat level police officers face to severe in October, meaning an attack is highly likely, has led to a large amount of speculation in the media about the information the tip contained.

However, we shouldn’t overplay the seriousness of this threat. First, police officers are brave individuals who take this sort of risk every time they wear their uniform. As visible representatives of the State, they will always attract a certain level of violence but they are trained and equipped to deal with most threats they might face. Second, last night’s tip may have been a malicious hoax, designed to disrupt policing and to spread fear amongst both the public and officers. As such, until more information is released we should keep calm and carry on as normal.

Yet, questions about the safety of police officers do remain. The continued existence of Islamic State and the continual drip feed of its warped propaganda on the internet means that a small minority of individuals will be inspired to attempt to commit violence in its name. As the murder of Lee Rigby demonstrates, these individuals are primarily interested in targeting those who directly represent authority. Thus, it would appear that members of the public should not be concerned for their safety.

Though, it does mean that police officers, especially those in a visible, uniformed role, will face an increased threat level. This would not normally be a matter of concern as the professionalism, training and equipment of our police would be sufficient to protect them. However, given the cuts that police force budgets have seen over the course of this Parliament, more and more officers are having to operate on their own, single man in police terminology, when on patrol or responding to emergency calls. I argue that this places officers in a vulnerable situation and whilst the raised threat level remains, must end. Also, I would like to see the ability of officers to carry their issued CS gas when off duty. After all, it would be fairly easy for an individual who wants to use violence against an officer to wait until the officer is off duty, and is thus less protected due to a lack of protective clothing and equipment, before attacking.