LONDON – A London police officer was fatally shot Friday morning inside a police station, the London Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
The police officer, identified as Sgt. Matt Ratana, was killed by a handcuffed man who had been arrested and was being detained at a custody center in Croydon, a neighborhood in south London.
Ratana was treated at the scene and later died at a hospital.
A 23-year-old suspect, who had been arrested for possession of drugs with intent to supply and possession of ammunition, was detained at the scene. Police said that the “early indications” were that he then turned the gun on himself. He is in a hospital in critical condition.
The police said no police firearms were fired during the incident, prompting questions about whether the suspect was properly searched at the time of his arrest.
It is rare for a British police officer to be killed in the line of duty. The police officer in Croydon is the 17th officer from the London Metropolitan Police to be killed by a firearm since World War II, according to the BBC.
The last time a police officer was killed by a firearm in the United Kingdom was 2012. Criminologists say that the lower rates of police fatalities in the U.K., compared to the United States, are in part due to the lower rates of gun ownership.
“In Great Britain or Germany, the number of police deaths from civilian attack most years is either one or zero. In the United States – four or five times larger – the death toll from civilian assaults is fifty times larger,” Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring wrote in a recent journal article.
He wrote that “the reason for the larger danger to police is the proliferation of concealable handguns throughout the social spectrum. When police officers die from assault in Germany or England, the cause is usually a firearm, but firearms ownership is low, and concealed firearms are rare.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his condolences to the officer’s family, friends and colleagues. “We owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe,” he said.
Ratana, 54, was a custody sergeant who was originally from New Zealand. British media reports said he was married with children, had a passion for rugby, and was close to retirement.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct, a police watchdog, is overseeing the investigation into the circumstances of the officer’s death.
The watchdog said that the suspect, who was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, opened fire at the station as the police officers were preparing to search him with a metal detector.
Cressida Dick, London Metropolitan Police commissioner, called the shooting shocking. “When a colleague dies in the line of duty, the shock waves and sadness reverberates throughout the Met and our communities,” Dick said. “Policing is a family, within London and nationally, and we will all deeply mourn our colleague.”
She said in a further update that Ratana was “long-serving sergeant” and “much loved.”
“Early indications are that the suspect shot himself,” she said. “This has not yet of course been established as a fact. The man I can tell you remains in a critical condition in hospital.”
A murder investigation is underway, she said, adding that officers were working at “several crime scenes to secure evidence and establish the facts of what happened.”
Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, told LBC Radio that officers are expected to carry out a full-body search of a suspect “at the time of the arrest.” And then, “once they are in the police station, you would perhaps do a more thorough search, a custody officer may authorize a strip search and that’s when you may find other weapons on individuals. But officers are required, for officer safety purposes, to carry out the search at the time of the arrest.”
“Tragic incidents like this are terrible reminders of the dangers our police officers face every single day they go into work to keep Londoners safe,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan.