We need more firearms officers, not less, at times of increased threat levels

28 July 2016

The number of Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) has dropped since last year, adding to the overall fall in numbers since 2009, now totalling 1,267.

The Home Office has released its latest figures on Police Use of Firearms. The fall in AFO numbers, to 5,639, show that the service is yet to see the impact of the additional 1500 officers promised by the government earlier this year.

Che Donald, lead on firearms for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “The PFEW have repeatedly raised concerns around adequate numbers of firearms officers and we remain curious as to where this extra number will come from, with the latest Workforce data showing a further decrease of 3000 police officers.

“While the argument for sufficient numbers to help manage any potential terror attack on UK soil speaks for itself, the support firearms officers give to our unarmed colleagues is just as important.

“The falling officer numbers means double-crewing is becoming a luxury, which leaves officers alone and unarmed in some dangerous situations, this is particularly relevant for those working in a rural environment. Those officers need to be reassured that should they need the support of an armed colleague to deal with a situation, help is quickly on hand – unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly difficult.”

Firearms officers are also being used more regularly to assist in dealing with emergency calls, because there are no other police officers available. While this can be viewed as intelligent allocation of resources, it also means that the capability of deploying an armed unit is reduced with these officers being otherwise engaged dealing with an incident.

The figures on the number of times police have discharged their weapons has remained largely consistent year on year.

Mr Donald said: “This shows that it is only in the most serious of circumstances that decision is made to discharge a weapon and highlights the excellent training and decision making our firearms officers have.”

He went on to outline how crucial it is to ensure that when a weapon is discharged, there are adequate protections afforded to officers.

“These AFOs are acting on behalf of the state in undertaking their duties, a role which requires volunteers to come forward. It is interesting that the government has been largely silent since the former Prime Minister announced a review into these protections (December 2015). We are also still waiting for the draft IPCC guidance on deaths following police contact, which is currently with the home office.

“In light of the atrocities and vulnerabilities being played out on national media following terror attacks worldwide, I would have expected these concerns to have been addressed by now in order to offer reassurance not only to these armed officers but also the public they have vowed to protect. Not doing this only adds uncertainty to current AFOs and also those who are considering applying.”