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PC Keith Palmer’s death sparks questions over whether all parliamentary police should be armed

PC Keith Palmer's Death Sparks Questions Over Whether All Parliamentary Police Should Be ArmedPC Keith Palmer. Met Police

LONDON PC Keith Palmer, the police officer killed in Wednesday’s terror attack in Westminster, was unarmed. Palmer was stabbed as he rushed to confront the knife-wielding attacker, moments before armed colleagues shot and killed the suspect. MP and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has now questioned why there was not an armed presence at the gates where the incident took place, and said it was a “little bit of a surprise that there was not[1].”

So why was PC Palmer unarmed?

What police carry

Most police officers in the UK do not carry a firearm, as senior officers want forces to retain a “respect and consent” policy which could be undermined by the widespread use of weapons. However, PC Palmer was a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command[2] (PaDP), a special operations branch of the London Metropolitan Police Service responsible for protecting UK embassies, diplomats, and the parliamentary estate.

The unit is an armed command[3], meaning that most of its officers are “authorised firearms officers” (AFOs). Firearms commonly carried by officers include the Glock 17 pistol and the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun. But not all PaDP officers carry weapons on duty. The Metropolitan Police’s Acting deputy commissioner Mark Rowley said in a statement on Wednesday[4]:

“Our parliamentary protection team are a combination of armed and unarmed officers doing different roles, and sadly the officer who lost his life today was unarmed.

“He was supported by armed colleagues who shot and killed the attacker. [The attacker] tried to enter parliament and was stopped at the gate.”

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg reported[5] that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s bodyguard may have been the officer responsible for shooting the attacker dead.

The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Northern Ireland Secretary are all assigned Specialist Protection Command (SO1) close protection officers, who carry firearms. Rowley did not specify why Palmer was not carrying a gun, or why there was not an armed presence at the gates which the attacker attempted to breach.

Armed response units responded swiftly

PC Keith Palmer's Death Sparks Questions Over Whether All Parliamentary Police Should Be ArmedStefan Wermuth / Reuters

As well as the armed PaDP officers who were already present at the scene of the attack, a number of Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism armed response units flooded the area around Westminster on Wednesday. The response by emergency services was widely praised for its speed and preparedness. BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani said[6]: “The fact that the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism armed response swung into action so quickly indicates how much work has been done since the killing of Lee Rigby in 2013.”

At present, there are around 2,200 armed police officers within the Metropolitan Police[7], with another 600 currently being trained. Most armed units are deployed in response to specific events or to carry out specific firearms operations rather than for routine patrols.

Stepping up police patrols

PC Keith Palmer's Death Sparks Questions Over Whether All Parliamentary Police Should Be ArmedStefan Wermuth / Reuters

Extra armed police officers have been deployed across London in the wake of the attack. The Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police, and the City of London Police all confirmed on Wednesday that more officers are currently on patrol. Rowley said in a statement: “On a precautionary basis across the country we are stepping up police patrols unarmed and armed and the public will see far more of their local police forces over the forthcoming days, particularly in crowded places and iconic locations.”

What next?

Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Thursday morning that security around the parliamentary estate would be reviewed as a matter of routine. She said: “In terms of security here in Westminster, we should be clear first of all that an attacker attempted to break into parliament and was shot dead within twenty yards of the gate.

“If his intention was to gain access to this building, we should be clear that he did not succeed. The police heroically did their job.

“But as is routine, the police together with the house authorities are reviewing the security of the parliamentary estate, co-ordinated with the cabinet office, who have responsibility for the security measures in place around the government’s secure zone.”

Defence Minister Michael Fallon also confirmed[8] that all security at the Houses of Parliament will be reviewed, including whether police on the front gates should be armed or not. He paid tribute to PC Palmer, who he said had “made the ultimate sacrifice” to keep others safe by stopping the attacker breaching the gates at Parliament.


  1. ^ little bit of a surprise that there was not (
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  3. ^ The unit is an armed command (
  4. ^ said in a statement on Wednesday (
  5. ^ BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg reported (
  6. ^ Dominic Casciani said (
  7. ^ 2,200 armed police officers within the Metropolitan Police (
  8. ^ Defence Minister Michael Fallon also confirmed (

Parliament shooting updates: everything we know about the incident

What has happened?

A man has been shot by police for trying to access the Palace of Westminster. Before being shot, the man crashed a car into pedestrians and stabbed a police officer. At least 20 people have been injured and so far two civilians and the policeman who was stabbed have died, despite attempts by FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood to perform CPR on the officer at the scene. The assailant is also dead. Police believe the attack was the work of a single person.

Is London safe?

Yes, London is relatively safe: while this attack came on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks, the speed and efficiency of the response shows that our security services have since at least 7/7 been working hard to improve their response to incidents like these. The entire city will now be on full alert.

What happens when there is an attack inside the House of Commons?

Almost immediately after the first reports of a shooting in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster, it went into full lockdown mode. MPs were stuck in the Chamber of the Parliament as security moved to block all entrances. Members of the Press Gallery were also stuck in the Commons, as what counterterrorism police call dynamic lockdown occurred. In response to fast-moving incidents, lockdown is the procedure for controlling access to, and exit from, a site. This prevents people moving into danger, while also aiming to frustrate the ongoing attack. Armed police are now searching through Parliament for any other assailants.


How will they protect Theresa May?

Reports indicate that the Prime Minister was in the voting lobby at the time news of the attack was first received. Her armed, plain-clothed security detail is understood to have brandished arms while escorting her from the building to an unmarked car, an armoured Jaguar XJ Sentinel. Having been bundled into the car she was taken away from the Parliamentary estate to Downing Street where sources have let it be known to the press that she is OK. The Prime Minister receives protection from both Met Police close protection officers and members of the UK Special Forces who train for exactly these scenarios.

Who are the men that fired?

Parliament is protected by Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection officers from within Protection Command, part of the Metropolitan police. Unlike the vast majority of UK police, Parliamentary police officers are armed and trained for events just like this.


How do they differ from regular security men?

Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection officers work with the Commons Sergeant at Arms and the Lords Black Rod to ensure 24/7 security and patrols. They are trained in weapons handling and counterterrorism.

What should anyone do in an incident like this?

The most important thing to do is run, and escape the danger as fast as you can. If that is not possible, then the Government’s own advice is to hide as best you can, find cover from gunfire, and put your phone on silent. Once you’ve done those things, try to make contact with the authorities.


What should I do if I’m watching all this at home?

Don’t share information you don’t know to be true, don’t share things that might help other assailants during an ongoing incident, and don’t share images of people who are injured or killed: nobody wants to identify their loved one via a post on social media.

What happens now?

We stay calm. While violence can be disruptive and hurtful, these incidents are often designed to try and change our way of life, and we must not let them do that. How we respond to this incident should show the best of who we are, and represent the tolerant liberal values that so many who try to commit acts of terrorism hate most. Terrorists want us to be fearful, and they want to divide us: we cannot let them achieve their goals. [1][2][3]


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Search for Secret Service Leader Intensifies as White House Security Is Tested

Critics of the agency have seized on the most recent cases to amplify calls for the White House to recruit a leader from outside the Secret Service, which would be unprecedented in the famously hidebound agency s modern history. They insisted that only someone untethered from the agency s ways of thinking could institute the kind of reforms necessary to guide the organization.

Continue reading the main story[1]

I still believe they have a deep-seated cultural problem, Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, and the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in an interview. We need a transformative figure to truly change the culture at the Secret Service.

The agency has been without a permanent leader since early this month, when its director, Joseph P. Clancy, stepped down to allow Mr. Trump to shape it as he saw fit.

Since Mr. Clancy s departure, the agency has again been tested by a series of attempted intrusions at the White House. The most serious of them[2] happened March 10, when a California man carrying pepper spray and a letter for Mr. Trump scaled fences and roamed the grounds for 17 minutes before being caught. It has prompted both the Secret Service and the House oversight committee to open investigations.

Continue reading the main story[3]

After receiving a closed-door briefing on the incident on Monday, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the oversight committee s top Democrat, said it was clear that the agency needed to go back under the microscope. He told reporters that a culture of complacency was plaguing certain parts of the agency.

At the same time, the Secret Service has found itself grappling with unexpected costs and travel demands posed by protecting Mr. Trump and his large family. The Washington Post reported[4] on Wednesday that the agency had requested an additional $60 million in funds for next year to help pay for the protection of Mr. Trump s Manhattan residence and the family s higher-than-expected travel costs.

Continue reading the main story[5]

Indeed, few jobs in government matter more to the fate of the president or the country than director of the Secret Service. Though the agency oversees a vast investigations arm targeting counterfeiting and other financial crimes, its reputation rests on its protection of the presidency and many of the country s most important figures.

Quite literally, at the end of the day, it is going to come down to the president s comfort, said W. Ralph Basham, who served as director of the agency from 2003 to 2006. If you are going to turn the security and safety of your family over to someone, the president needs to weigh in.

Continue reading the main story[6]

John F. Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, whose department includes the Secret Service, will also have a say in the decision. The U.S. Secret Service is a vital federal law enforcement partner and the White House is working closely with Secretary Kelly on filling this important position, Michael Short, a White House spokesman, said on Tuesday.

Continue reading the main story[7]

In the interview, Mr. Chaffetz said he had pressed Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, to choose an outsider, in part because he saw no natural fit for the top job within its ranks.

Continue reading the main story[8]

But others briefed on the search pointed to several potential candidates within the agency or its pool of former agents. They include George D. Mulligan, the agency s chief operating officer and No. 2; Robert Buster, who was the top agent in charge of President Obama s security detail; and Mickey Nelson, a former assistant director overseeing the agency s protective assignments, and now a security consultant. Only Mr. Mulligan is not a career Secret Service officer; he spent most of his career in the military.

William J. Callahan, the agency s acting director, was briefly under consideration before he bowed out early this month, according to an official at the Department of Homeland Security[9].

Continue reading the main story[10]

Mr. Basham said he expected that the White House would also consider current or former leaders from the military, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other law enforcement agencies.

Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump s longtime private security director who followed him to the White House, has also been mentioned in connection to the job.

Whomever Mr. Trump chooses will inherit an agency still trying to recover from a series of flaps between 2011 and 2014 that badly hurt its credibility. Those incidents, from highly publicized cases of drunken misbehavior by agents and officers to the failure to prevent an armed private security guard from riding in an elevator[11] with Mr. Obama, prompted an investigation by the House oversight committee and the creation of a four-person independent panel convened by the Department of Homeland Security. Both groups eventually made recommendations that the agency look outside its ranks to help clean up the mess.

The low point came in September 2014, when an intruder armed with a knife, Omar J. Gonzalez, made it all the way[12] to the ceremonial East Room of the White House. The incident prompted the agency s director, Julia Pierson, to resign.

Continue reading the main story[13]

These things have really undermined the confidence of the American people, the confidence of the Hill and even to some extent of the White House, Mr. Basham said. And that is something the next director is going to have to deal with.

Continue reading the main story[14]

The new director will also be expected to re-evaluate whether the agency should narrow its mission to pare down some aspects of its investigative work and increase resources for protection. The Secret Service, once a unit of the Treasury Department, investigates[15] counterfeiting and financial crimes.

Mr. Clancy, who was brought out of retirement by Mr. Obama to help stabilize the agency, began instituting many of the reforms called for by investigators. During his two years in office, he hired several top deputies from the outside to professionalize its leadership, including Mr. Mulligan. He pushed to extend overtime payments, a popular move among rank-and-file personnel. He also hired more agents and successfully oversaw protection during a highly charged political campaign.

Continue reading the main story[16]

Patrick O Carroll, a former Secret Service agent who is the executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said Mr. Clancy s successor would have a daunting task. Last year, in a survey of the best places to work[17] within the federal government, the agency ranked 305th out of 305 agencies.

Continue reading the main story[18]


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  9. ^ More articles about the Homeland Security Department. (
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  11. ^ riding in an elevator (
  12. ^ made it all the way (
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  17. ^ a survey of the best places to work (
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