Crime is a worldwide problem which spans geographical and national borders. The way in which individual countries around the globe deal with domestic criminal activity differs from nation to nation according to an array of factors including considerations such as type of government, cultural traditions and beliefs, as well as individual national crime rates. Although it’s rare in a small number of countries police enforcement officers don’t carry firearms while performing their official duties. Rather than relying on guns for protection and enforcement purposes, these unarmed officers rely on various other techniques and resources in order to carry out the task of maintaining law and order.
Cops Without Guns
Crime rates throughout the world vary depending upon a wide variety of complex socio political and economic factors. According to recent crime rate statistics Brazil holds the unfortunate distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world. Other countries in the top ten include India, Mexico, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, Colombia, Russia, and Pakistan. When specifically examining murder rates involving the use of a firearm the highest ranking nations are South Africa, Colombia, Slovakia, Thailand, El Salvador, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Albania, Uruguay, and the United States
Unlike in the majority of the world, in a small group of countries, including Ireland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, it is official policy for local law enforcement officers to conduct their duties without carrying a firearm. The governments of countries such as Ireland, for example, believe that their unarmed police forces can are effective because in essence law enforcement is reliant more on moral authority than brute force or access to extensive weaponry.
The history of Ireland’s unarmed police force, also known as the Garda Síochána or “the Guards”, can be traced back to 1924. After gaining its independence and then enduring a civil war involving the IRA, those in charge of forming Ireland's police department presumed that the presence of an armed police force would engender feelings of oppression and provoke violence from a still politically divided populace.
Another factor that played an important role in establishing this unarmed police contingent involves the relative scarcity of guns among the general public. Unlike in country's such as the United States, in Ireland gun control laws are strict with weapons being difficult to acquire. Culturally speaking, guns aren’t even popular in terms of being items desired by hobbyists nor are firearms generally sought out by citizens for the purpose of personal protection.
At the present time instead of carrying firearms the majority of Irish police officers are equipped with deterrents such as pepper spray and batons. Instances of crimes deemed to be of a violent nature (ie. murders and assaults) are considered to be relatively rare in Ireland. In fact the Emerald Isle has one of the lowest rates of gun violence and murders by youth in the world. In 2002, for example, only twelve murders using firearms were documented.
Members of the police force in the northern European country of Norway also don’t carry guns while performing their patrol duties. They do, however, have access to firearms which are locked in their patrol cars. Official policy states that the actual arming of these weapons is only to be carried out with permission from the chef of police. Recent national statistics suggest that crime is decreasing throughout Norway. In 2014 the Scandinavian country reported a total of 29 murders. This translates to a murder rate of 0.56 per 100,000 people.
Iceland has the smallest population among the five nations which have unarmed police forces. The humble beginnings of this country’s law enforcement department can be traced all the way back to 1778. Although Icelandic police primarily rely on batons and pepper spray while conducting their routine duties, all members of the force are trained in the use of guns. Firearms are usually only issued to members of the Víkingasveitin, or special operations team. Interestingly, despite its long history it wasn’t until 2013 that an Icelandic citizen was actually killed during an armed police operation.
In the island nation of New Zealand, law enforcement officers typically carry pepper spray, tasers, and batons. Apart from personnel stationed at the airport as well as members of the Diplomatic Protection Squad, officers do not carry firearms. During the course of the last several years, however, the New Zealand Police Association has made several requests for a revision of the force’s weapons policy with a proposal to include arming members and improving gun training. Currently, however, officers can only access guns from locked boxes stored in their police cars and are required to contact a supervisor in the event that such a weapon is removed from the car.
In the United Kingdom, polls suggest that individual members of the police force are the biggest proponents of keeping the status quo in terms of remaining unarmed. According to a 2006 survey, 82% of UK police officers preferred to be unarmed while conducting their routine duties. Reasons for this widespread opinion may be due to a traditional view of law enforcement which is founded on the consent of the population. There is also a popular belief that a police officer is more approachable by members of the public if he or she is unarmed. Many in the force believe that the relationship between the police and the community must be based on mutual trust and respect rather than amidst an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that’s so often associated with armed officers.
Current statistics show that violent crime in the United Kingdom is at its lowest level in over 30 years. In 1995, for example, the number of criminal acts reported nationwide totaled 4,200 while in 2011 this figure was reduced to 1,904. It is also important to point out that gun control laws in the UK are strict with ownership of firearms being highly controlled.
Effective Law Enforcement
Police forces across the globe are faced with adopting effective measures suited to combat crime in their native countries. Although most of the world’s police officers are armed, in a small minority of countries, law enforcement personnel have found that alternatives such as batons and pepper spray are effective deterrents while the use of firearms serves as a last choice option. If the violent crime rates in these countries were to rise, however, it would be interesting to see if these unarmed police departments would be forced to evolve (or devolve depending upon your point of view) and adopt more drastic measures including a revision of existing firearms policies. So far, however, in at least five nations, low domestic crime rates seem to illustrate that this unarmed approach to law enforcement seems to be paying off.