Billy Clubs and Guns

`THE policeman's lot is not a happy one'' - this century-old Gilbert and Sullivan lament is getting a reprise in Britain these days, principally as a result of the shocking statistic that 10 officers have been killed in England and Wales during the past five years.

In the United States, 328 officers were killed in the same time period.

The chief menace to a bobby remains the thug with a knife. When the British consider improving the policeman's lot, they discuss such devices as a 10-pound mesh vest and a truncheon slightly longer than the billy club. Less than 1 percent of crimes in England and Wales involve a gun.

Because the English live in cities where assault rifles are not casually fired to settle disputes among drug dealers or quarrels between motorists, the relatively tranquil streets measure just how violent the US has become.

The debate in Parliament on the response to what members regard as a ``crisis'' of violence reveals an anguished knowledge of all that gets lost when a society must arm itself against enemies within. While acknowledging that ``each death brings more cause for it,'' a Labour Member of Parliament appeared to speak for the consensus when he said, ``It will be a sad day when the police are all armed.''

As the arsenals of law enforcers increase to match the arsenals of criminals in Britain and in the US, the British see it as a Pyrrhic victory. Can Americans, so steeped in the gun culture and so terrorized by it, appreciate that law and order brought about by force is not true law and order?

A student of British law enforcement describes his tradition as ``policing by consent.'' Many would say it is an archaic phrase in the age of the Uzi. But there is a truth as well as innocence to his insistence that ``a citizen ought to accept the authority of a police officer out of respect rather than fear or awe.''

Nobody, including the British, would argue for pacifism in the face of violent crime. On the other hand, to the descendants of Wyatt Earp who used ``peacemaker'' as a synonym for ``gun,'' the reluctant debate about arming the bobbies may serve as a reminder that real peace must involve some degree of mutual trust. Anything less is merely a holding action.

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