LETTER: How long would it take for an armed response if terrorists attack?

According to the Guardian (26-12-15), the Home Secretary has been warned by police chiefs, who are co-ordinating counter-terrorism that Britain’s regional cities are highly vulnerable to Paris-style terror attacks.

Scotland Yard have told Theresa May that “dedicated armed assets” outside of London lack the 24/7 armed police cover given to London. Furthermore, Scotland Yard specialists suggest, “Ask a regional force how long it would take them to respond to a terror attack and watch them squirm.”

If true, this answer poses a real problem as the public have a right to expect a response to a Paris style attack in time to save lives.

I suppose the question that we really want answered is: “If a terrorist group attacked the Grand Arcade, Rivergate, Queensgate or other regional centres, how long would it take for an armed response unit to deploy in sufficient numbers to protect us?”

However, we don’t properly ask that question because the public answer would alert terrorists to our ability to respond. Nonetheless, we do expect our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to know the answer - and ensure that we are protected. If not, then the article in the Guardian may in less than veiled terms point to a reality that leaves the PCC with a problem.

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One Home Office suggestion is the provision of special units that can be called upon in the event of a terrorist attack.

I am not sure that diverting resources in this way is an answer. Our police service is currently stretched to its limits in an attempt to provide an agreed level of policing. Nonetheless, people’s safety is key to having a free society and whilst we may not be able to stop every plot, we should be able to respond adequately in the event that the thinkable happens.

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However, if our response to the threat of terror attacks pulls more police officers away from the service that we traditional ask of them, then we need to be part of this debate. We also need to ask if there are enough of our police officers that would volunteer to join a team specifically tasked with this sort of public protection duties?

There are some serious questions here and we may not thank the Guardian for making us feel a bit more uncomfortable when we are out and about in Cambridgeshire, but we do need to thank the paper for starting a debate that we need to be part of.


Cambridge City Councillor

Candidate for the Labour Party’s nomination for Police and Crime Commissioner.

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