Some London Police Officers Step Back From Armed Duty After Murder Charge

British soldiers were briefly put on standby over the weekend to support the counterterrorism police in London after some armed officers refused to carry their weapons in the wake of a fellow police officer being charged with murder.

The Metropolitan Police Service said on Monday that a number of police officers took the decision to “step back from armed duties while they consider their position” over the weekend. Their move came after murder charges were filed against a police officer in the killing of Chris Kaba, a young Black man who was fatally shot by the police in south London last year.

Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, and other senior police leaders held discussions with the officers over the weekend “to understand their genuinely held concerns,” the police said in a statement. Enough armed officers returned on Monday that assistance from Britain’s Ministry of Defence was no longer needed.

“As of lunchtime on Monday, the number of officers who had returned to armed duties was sufficient for us to no longer require external assistance to meet our counterterrorism responsibilities,” the police said in the statement.

The episode took place against the backdrop of a reckoning over police violence and accountability around the world. But this dispute underlined the specific challenges facing London’s Metropolitan Police Service, which faces a crisis in public trust, particularly after the rape and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 by a police officer.

A wide-ranging government report ordered on the heels of that killing concluded that the Metropolitan Police force was plagued by widespread racism and misogyny, and said its response to scandal was characterized by “denial and obfuscation.” The police force later announced plans for reforms, but critics say change has not come quickly enough.

The BBC earlier reported that some 300 armed officers had handed in permits that allowed them to carry weapons, although the police did not confirm this number.

The Metropolitan Police said in its statement that some armed officers had become anxious about the implications of the murder charge against one of their colleagues.

“They are concerned that it signals a shift in the way the decisions they take in the most challenging circumstances will be judged,” the statement said.

The Metropolitan Police Service is Britain’s largest force and has responsibility for policing the capital, but also oversees a number of other specialized forces that work across the country.

Unlike with police forces in the United States, most police officers in Britain do not carry guns. Only around 2,500 specialized officers across the service carry firearms, including the MO19 Specialist Firearms Command, and some members of the Aviation, Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, and the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command.

Chris Kaba was fatally shot in his car in London last year.Credit…Inquest, via Associated Press

The killing of Mr. Kaba, 24, who was an expectant father, fueled protests in the months after his death last September, and the decision last week by the police force to charge the officer, identified only as NX121, was welcomed by his family.

Now that the officer has been charged, few details can be revealed about the case, but investigators noted that the officer fired a single shot that pierced the car’s windshield and struck Mr. Kaba in the head.

On Sunday, Suella Braverman, Britain’s home secretary whose office is responsible for overseeing policing nationwide, voiced support for firearms officers and said she had ordered a review into armed policing.

“We depend on our brave firearms officers to protect us from the most dangerous & violent in society,” she wrote in a statement posted to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “In the interest of public safety, they have to make split-second decisions under extraordinary pressures. They mustn’t fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties,” she added.

But Charlie Falconer, a former secretary of state for justice, noted on X that the decision to charge an officer for murder came from the Crown Prosecution Service, the public prosecutor for England and Wales, and argued that “attacking this prosecution decision fundamentally undermines rule of law.”

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