Does an armed police presence make Europe feel safer?

Article published on Feb. 10, 2016
Article published on Feb. 10, 2016

Over the last few months, there's a new trend in European policing. Following the terror attacks in Paris on the 13th of November, several countries have seen an increase in armed police officers in areas considered targets: in airports, at large-scale events, and on the streets of major cities. How are young people in Europe reacting to this change? Do they feel more or less safe?

This January, the London Metropolitan Police Service announced that they would be authorising 600 new armed police officers as a direct response to the terrorist attacks across Paris on the 13th of November 2015.

In the French capital itself, during the current "State of Emergency", police are permitted to carry sidearms even outside of service, and there has been an increased presence on the streets, which has resulted in increased hours and a higher stress potential for the police force.

Increased police security is part of a growing trend across the continent (admittedly with some exceptions). While the justification for an armed police presence is to increase levels of security, is it true that young people feel more secure? We asked Babelian's from across the continent to share their thoughts.

"We've noticed the difference..."

In the British Capital, armed police officers have historically been quite a rare sight. "Seeing police with weapons on the street – my knee-jerk reaction is to feel less safe, not more," says David (30), who lives in the city, "I suppose part of this is because gun culture (out in the open) is so alien to most British people. Whether it makes me safer or not is debatable, but my gut instinct? No. Guns could be kept on hand for quick response needs, surely, without regular patrol use?"

Some have not noticed a marked change. Despite being subjected to increased passport checks when returning to London whilst connecting flights in Amsterdam, Chris hasn't felt much of a difference. "It was pretty laissez-faire," he explains. Others are more affected by the unfamiliar situation. Speaking from East London – an area with a large immigrant population – Anjum says: "Absolutely yes... many police officers with big rifles. I feel a lot less safe when I see them." 

Elsewhere in Europe, we also receive a mixed response. Giulia (27) from Italy, replies: "There have been military forces around Florence since the 13th of November. Not so many... but we have definitely gone from seeing no guns to some, we've noticed the difference. When it comes to the safety factor, at least in my humble opinion, they have not affected anything. I feel exactly the same level of security as I did before the 13th of November."

"Look natural, you've done nothing wrong!"

In Brussels, having experienced their own terror threat and subsequent lockdown last November, our contact was undecided. "Are they supposed to bring more security?" says Julie (25), "Without a doubt, but it feels like being at war... It causes a certain paranoia. On the other hand, if there really are terrorists hidden in Brussels, the military presence could also discourage them... 

"I've mixed feelings on the question. When you're walking down the street at there's this soldier standing with a machine gun staring at you and you say 'Look natural, you've done nothing wrong!' It's stupid. Like when you leave a shop and you think 'Will the buzzer sound or not?' when you haven't stolen anything."

To some people, however, the increased armed police presence after the attacks of the 13th of November is not so notable as it was following other incidents. "I remember after 9/11 and 7/7 armed police being on the streets in the UK..." Chris continues, "but recently I haven't noticed a massive difference."

Similarly, in Toulouse, France, Camille (28) told us that the trend of armed police officers had begun even before the 2015 attacks, following the death of the young activist Remi Fraisse from a police grenade at a protest at the Sivens dam in 2014: "Seeing the military making their patrols around commercial centres gives me even less of a desire to go there than before!"