British police were forced to defend sending visibly armed officers to guard a Christmas market – days before the Berlin truck attack – after anti-gun members of the public and activists caused a social media backlash.
Pictures of the firearms officers posing with children at the market, posted on Northumbria Police’s Facebook page on the 9th of December, attracted more than 2,500 mostly critical comments.
In the post, the force insisted they were following orders from the Home Office, telling the public: “Don’t be alarmed if you do see our armed officers, they are there purely for reassurance and to make people feel safe.”
Just a week before, on the 22nd of November, the U.S. government warned its citizens in Europe it had “credible information” Islamic State and al-Qaeda were planning to attack Christmas celebrations in Europe this year.
Despite this, offended users of social media claimed “militarised” police made the situation “worse” and were an “over-reaction”.
Facebook user Livia Augusta wrote: “I think a militarized police is the last thing I would want my children pictured with. This kind of visibility of armed police contributes to a climate of fear.
“Safety is the last message this presence is sending out. It’s sad, and an extreme over reaction to a very slim chance of a terrorist attack. More likely to be hit by a drink driver.”
“Keeping us safe from what exactly? Santa?” questioned Robyn Cunningham. David Rooke added: “This is wrong very very wrong”, while Elsbeth Webb claimed the images were “normalizing the abnormal”.
The left-wing press echoed the social media outrage in alarmist headlines. “Outrage as police officers armed with huge guns pose with children at Christmas market”, read the Evening Standard.
The force responded in a statement, writing: “Being an AFO requires a huge amount of training and we are very proud of the officers who have taken up this role in Northumbria.”
— London Taxi Trade (@londontaxitrade) December 11, 2016
Other Christmas markets in the UK also took precautionary measures. Concrete barriers were erected around the market in Birmingham to stop a truck or car attack.
Now, a total of 200 undercover SAS soldiers are due to be deployed to markets and crowded town and city centres, the Daily Express reports.
A total of eleven UK forces are deploying armed officers, and responding to Monday’s deadly attacks in Berlin and Turkey, more look set to follow Northumbria.
“The Metropolitan Police has detailed plans for protecting public events over the Christmas and New Year period,” London police told Reuters in a statement Tuesday morning.
“As a matter of routine, as a precaution, we review our plans after attacks overseas, and we are doing so at present following the awful incidents in Berlin and Ankara last night.”
At least 12 are reported to have been killed and dozens more injured after a heavy truck reportedly driven by a Pakistani migrant smashed its way through a Christmas market last night. A similar attack in Nice, France in July saw 86 killed and was ended after a gun battle between armed officers and the perpetrator.