Following the tragic murder of Pc Sharon Beshenivsky at the weekend, the media has been in flurry over whether policemen should be routinely armed (despite the fact that practically no one seems to be calling for this) and, following a newspaper article by Lord Stevens, whether the death penalty should be re-introduced for the murder of a police officer. No doubt one of the newspapers will commission an up-to-date opinion poll on one or both subjects in the next couple of days, but since these are perennial issues, there are plenty of past polls to look back at.
On the routine arming of police officers, while Home Office consultations suggest that a large majority of serving police officers are opposed to routinely carrying arms, the public are far more divided on the subject. The most recent poll to ask if police officers should be armed was carried out by ICM back in April 2004 and found 47% of the public supported arming all policemen, while 48% opposed such a move. That poll suggested the move specifically as an anti-terrorist measure, though a YouGov poll in 2003 which asked the question in the context of more criminals using guns, found a simialr split in opinion – 44% in favour, 48% against.
Turning to the other question, the death penalty is consistently supported by a majority of the public, indeed it is normally given as the classic textbook example of an issue where MPs consistently vote in a way that does not reflect public opinion (and indeed, since Britain signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it would be considerably more difficult for Britain to reintroduce the death penalty anyway). Unsurprisingly therefore, the last two polls to ask whether or not capital punishment should be reintroduced for the murder of the police officer found majority support – in January 2003 YouGov found 56% supported it, later the same year in December 2003 they found 62% supported it.
Will the weekend’s tragedy change these figures? It’s possible, but it’s worth bearing in mind that polls above were taken after other tragedies – the January 2003 one was conducted straight after the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake, the December 2003 one was part of a wider survey on the death penalty taken immediately after the Soham murder trial. The only time the media tend to enquire what people think about the death penalty is when they are reeling from a particularly horrific crime.