One was a young policewoman, unarmed on the outskirts of Paris and felled by an assault rifle. Her partner, also without weapons, could do nothing to stop the gunman. Another was a first responder with a side arm, rushing to the Charlie Hebdo offices where a pair of masked men with high-powered weapons had opened fire on an editorial meeting. Among their primary targets: the armed police bodyguard inside the room.
With the deaths of the three French officers during three days of terror in the Paris region and the suggestion of a plot in Belgium to kill police, European law enforcement agencies are rethinking how — and how many — police should be armed.
Scotland Yard said Sunday it was increasing the deployment of officers allowed to carry firearms in Britain, where many cling to the image of the unarmed “bobby.” In Belgium, where officials say a terror network was plotting to attack police, officers are again permitted to take their service weapons home.
On Monday, French law enforcement officials demanding heavier weapons, protective gear and a bolstered intelligence apparatus met with top officials from the Interior Ministry. An official with the ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing talks, said automatic weapons and heavier bulletproof vests were on the table.
Among the most horrific images from the Paris attacks was the death of police officer Ahmed Merabet, who can be seen on eyewitness video lying wounded on the pavement as a gunman approaches and fires a final bullet into his head. Merabet, who is seen alone on the street, had a service gun and a bullet proof vest, said Michel Thooris, of the France Police labor union.
“But he did not come with the backup he needed, and the psychology to face a paramilitary assault,” Thooris said. “We were not prepared in terms of equipment or mind-set for this kind of operation.”
One of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, said in a posthumous video that his plan all along was to attack police.
“We don’t want necessarily the arms that American police have. We need weapons that can respond,” said Philippe Capon of French police union UNSA.
Among those weapons, he added, are modernized criminal databases, because the current databases are out of date, and firewalled between different law enforcement branches. “The databases are not interactive. They are not accessible to all. They are not up to date,” he said.