- Firearms unit
A firearms unit is a specialised, armed unit within each
territorial police forcein the United Kingdom. [ [http://www.global-defence.com/2003/police_03.htm Metropolitan Police Force's Firearms Unit ] ] For the most part, the police forces of the United Kingdom are unarmed; however, all have firearms units (the title of which differs between forces) to provide the police force with the capability to deal with armed criminals. A Police Officercannot apply to the Firearms Unit without first finishing their two year Probationary Period with a further two years in a core policing role. [ [http://www.tayside.police.uk/firearms.php Tayside Police - Specialist Units - Firearms ] ] . Firearms unit is the most common name outside of the capital, while that of London's Metropolitan Police Serviceis called the Specialist Firearms Command, or CO19. Within the media it is sometimes compared to the SWATunits of the United States.
Criminals are less likely to carry firearms due to United Kingdom gun lawscite book |title=Armed Police, The Police Use of Firearms since 1945 |last=Waldren |first=Michael J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2007 |publisher=Sutton |location=England |isbn=0750946377 |pages=224] , and the presence of an armed officer can often be enough to negotiate their surrender. One particular British police force has only had to use a firearm against a suspect once in its entire history. [cite web |url=http://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/UNDERZONE/about-us/specialist-firearms.htm |title=Underzone - Police specialists - Firearms officers |accessdate=2008-02-20 ]
Only three forces in the United Kingdom routinely arm officers due to the nature of their work; the
Ministry of Defence Policewho police all MOD property, the Civil Nuclear Constabularywho guard civil nuclear facilities, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. [ [http://www.modpoliceofficers.co.uk/default.asp Ministry of Defence Police - Home ] ] [ [http://www.psni.police.uk/ Welcome to the Police Service of Northern Ireland ] ] [ [http://www.cnc.police.uk/ Civil Nuclear Constabulary ] ]
Organisation, history, training and tactics
Police use of firearms in the United Kingdomhas been a slow, controversialcite book |title=Armed Police, The Police Use of Firearms since 1945 |last=Waldren |first=Michael J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2007 |publisher=Sutton |location=England |isbn=0750946377 |pages=224] and developing process, usually because senior officers strived for their forces to retain the "British Bobby" or Dixon of Dock Greenaffect, which was achieved without armed policing, within the community. During the First and Second World Wars Firearms were only carried on protection duties such as 10 Downing Streetor escorting large sums of money, however, police were supplied with many firearms such as the cheap Canadian Ross Rifle in case of invasion. Although they were never taken on general patrol, due to the lack of equipment when issued with a firearm it was usually without a holster to accommodate the weapon, as all available equipment was in huge demand because of the war. In the after-war years, training for the Webley & Scott revolverusually consisted of firing six shots. To pass, it was required that three shots had to be on target. Loading, unloading and safe handling of the actual weapon was not usually taught, particularly in the years immediately following the Second World War, due to the police having an influx of ex-servicemen joining, and their previous knowledge was thought to suffice.
From the onset of the newly formed Metropolitan Police Service, in London, by
Robert Peel's " Metropolitan Police Act 1829", passed by government. The establishments officers were unarmed to make them look less like military enforcers, which was the system of policing seen before the 1820s. However, despite the service being unarmed, the then Home SecretaryRobert Peel gave authorisation to the Commissioner to purchase fifty flintlock pistols, for exceptional incidents that required the use of firearms. As time progressed, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, being superseded by early revolvers. At the time, burglary (or "house breaking" as it was then called) was a common problem for police, and "house breakers" were usually armed, as it was legal to own a pistol for self-defence, at that time. Because of many deaths of officers in the hands of firearms in the outer districts of the Metropolis, and after much press coverage debating whether Peel's service should be fully armed, the Commissioner applied to the Home Secretary to supply all officers on the outer districts with revolvers. These could only be issued if, in the opinion of the senior officer, the officer could be trusted to use it safely, and with discretion. From that point, all officers who felt the need to be armed, could be so. The practice lasted until 1936, although the vast majority of the system was phased out by the end of the 19th century.
Due to the high amount of press coverage supporting the routine arming of the police, the Commissioner requested a ballot of officers on their opinions about arming. All ranks, were asked and the amount against arming, was more than in favour of fully arming the service. The Commissioner accepted that fully arming was not the way forward to protect officers, truncheons were standardised, instead of being clipped to the belt, they were fastened to it, and carried in a spring loaded case. Also, despite the police use of Sabres and Cutlasses hampering, any officer wishing to carry one, was authorised to do so. In the late 19th Century, many revolvers were purchased and issued to divisions for an emergency, many were obsolete when purchased and in a poor state. Also, early training of such firearms was close to non exsistant.
In 1948, concerns were aired by the
Home Officeover the police forces' role if there were to be another war or the new threat of nuclear attack, it was decided that some of the central forces would be loaned Sten sub-machine guns by the Ministry of Defence and a number of Lee Enfield No4 Mk 2 bolt action rifles. These, along with revolvers and ammunition, were kept in secret depots around the United Kingdom so that every force had the weapons close and could get access to them if they were required.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the police use of firearms become more prevalent due to the developing nature of armed crime and terrorism. Firearms were usually concealed from the public unless drawn, although when the Heckler & Koch MP5 Semi-Automatic Carbine was adopted by
SO18, the size of the weapon meant that this rule had to be changed, allowing armed officers to openly carry their firearms.
Before major reconstructing in the rules regarding operational use of firearms, In the event of an "immediate threat to life", a high ranking officer such as Chief Inspector or Superintendents could give the order for Authorised Firearms Officers to draw firearms from the secure cabinet in the boot of the Armed Response Vehicle. In a less threatening situation, authorisation had to be gained from an on-call senior officer of the
Association of Chief Police Officers(ACPO). The difficulty of this authorisation was quickly realised as desired officers were not always available so now, the decision to draw semi-automatic carbines rests upon each member of the ARV crew, although personal side arms are carried on each member as a matter of routine, although for pre-planned operations a designated senior officer can authorise the deployment of carbines. Intervention from Specialist Firearms Officers requires authorisation from the Home Office before the Chief Constableof the force can deploy them.
Before the introduction of
Authorised Firearms Officer(AFO) and Specialist Firearms Officer(SFO), each large police stationhad a small number of 'authorised shots' (as they was then called), trained in the use of firearms, so in theory the could deploy to relevant incidents in that area, but the officers did not patrol full time with firearms, they carried out routine policing duties until needed. After the formation of the firearms unit, all trained officers in a single force were brought together under one unit which could then be deployed more easily than an assortment based at stations. Although, the new concept of Armed Response Vehicles were not introduced until 1991, being first transitioned in London.
Within the Metropolitan Police Service, the system of 'authorised shots' had not been phased out completely, and the role changed with the times. For sieges involving terrorism or heavy firepower, D11 was called into service, but in other cases a region's 'divisional riflemen' would be responsible for bringing sieges to an end in their area.
The Metropolitan Police Firearms Unit has had many name changes, when first devised it was named D6, before being changed to D11, later it changed to PT17 for Personnel and Training, later to that when
Specialist Operationsunits were devised, it was renamed SO19. When "SO" was phased out, its designation was replaced by Central Operationsand as of 2008, the unit's official name is CO19, or Specialist Firearms Command.
The numbers of Fireams Officers in each force varies, but generally it is approximately two to five percent of its strength with designated role specific Inspectors and Sergeants supervising the teams.
In a number of large Metropolitan forces the Firearms Unit is headed by a
Chief Superintendent, a Superintendant, Chief Inspector with two Inspectors, and six Sergeants with up to 100 Constables. In smaller forces, Firearms Units are headed by a Superintendant Chief Inspector, Inspector, four Sergeants and twenty five to thirty Constables.
Firearms units maintain a pool of specialist Tactical Advisors to advise Firearms Commanders during spontaneous incidents, and to provide a planning capability for pre-planned firearms operations along with VIP protection. [ [Manual of Guidance onthe Police Use of Firearms ] ] The Firearms Units in the UK are predominantly used for the
arrestof armed criminals in official raids, and responding to incidents where firearms are suspected to be involved. SFOs in a small minority of forces (notably the Metropolitan Police Service's CO19) receive enhanced training in dynamic entry tactics for hostage rescue. [ [http://www.met.police.uk/co19/training.htm Metropolitan Police Service - Central Operations, Specialist Firearms unit (CO19) ] ]
Each force operates an
Armed Response Vehiclesystem that are crewed by AFOs. These vehicles constantly patrol an area, as this reduces deployment time because an armed incident must be responded to rapidly. Most forces use Volvo V70s as ARVs which are also used by traffic police, although the Metropolitan Police Serviceuses BMWarea cars adapted for specialist duty usage. [ [http://www.met.police.uk/mpds/vehicles.htm Metropolitan Police Service - Driving School ] ] One of the only forces in the United Kingdom, that does not operate an ARV system, is the British Transport Police(BTP). This being due to the fact, that unlike other forces, they do not police a geographical area, such as a town or city. BTP officers, instead police railways and London Undergroundstations within existing areas which are policed by other forces. If firearms incidents occurred in the station, this would be the responsibility of the geographical force responsible for that area.
Road Policing Units are responsible for policing of the
United Kingdom motorways, and operate "Traffic ARVs" to pursue fleeing offenders who commonly try to escape by the use of motorways. When not needed for firearms incidents, the traffic police carry out normal road policing duties.
Metropolitan Police Service, Armed Response Vehicles carry three officers - an Advanced Driver, a Navigator and an Observer who is in charge of scene assessment and liaises with other units, such as the London Ambulance Service. They act as a communications bridge between other services at the incident and can also request more officers if the need arises. However, ARVs excluding the capital are only crewed by two AFOs instead of three (The observer is a fully trained navigator), Metropolitan Police ARVs have the call sign "Trojan", making it easier to identify an ARV while communicating by the use of radios. Armed Response Vehicles in most forces can be identified by a circular yellow sticker on the body of the vehicle. Metropolitan Police ServiceFirearms Officers ( CO19) will commonly be present on foot more than other county forces due to the large geographic area they are responsible for requires a greater volume of security. They are present at major demonstrations, and large social events such as the Chinese New Year. Officers of the Diplomatic Protection Groupwill be armed as they guard high risk buildings such as foreign embassies, 10 Downing Street, Palace of Westminster, New Scotland Yardand Buckingham Palace. [ [http://www.met.police.uk/co/protection.htm Metropolitan Police Service - Central Operations ] ]
Armed officers can also be present in
hospitals, if a patient there is a victim of gun crime who may be in danger from further attacks. The Senior Investigative Officer will apply to the Force Firearms Unit to have an AFO guard the subject.
territorial police forces geographical area includes an airport, the force's firearms unit would provide armed policing for it. The Metropolitan Police's Aviation Security unit police London Heathrow Airport, Sussex Policeare responsible for Gatwick Airport, and Essex Constabularyare responsible for Stansted.
Authorised Firearms Officers wishing to become Specialist Firearms Officers are required to attend an eight week training course at the National Police Firearms Training Centre in Gravesend, Kent. However, the potential recruit is only invited to attend the centre if they have successfully passed written psychological tests, and have been security cleared. Usually, the role of an SFO is to intervene in situations that are beyond the control of AFOs, who crew Armed Response Vehicles. Potential SFOs are extensively trained on the safe use of specialist firearms, Method of Entry techniques to gain access to premises quickly, abseiling and 'fast rope' skills, scenario training such as being instructed to search a specially adapted training area of an aircraft, extensive use of tear gas and stun grenades, safe handling of rescued hostages and rescue techniques, computer simulated 'war games' of potential threats such as terrorist attacks, and training in the use of protective clothing against CBRNattack.
Authorised Firearms Officers, who are known to crew
Armed Response Vehicles (ARV) are invited to attend the Training Centre, after they have undergone the written tests and interviews along with the successful completion of their probationary period, with a further two years in a core policing role. The potential AFOs undergo one week of intensive training on the Glock 17 Pistol, and the Heckler & Koch MP5 Semi-Automatic Carbine. This is followed by a further six weeks of training focused on ARVs, such as driving techniques, high speed pursuit methods and safely executing controlled crashes.
Of the 142,000 officers in the 39
territorial police forces in England, 6,000 are trained in the use of firearms. Around 2,000 of these are members of the Metropolitan Police Service. [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/06/10/nlogo410.xml Britain may call on foreign armed police - Telegraph ] ]
Armed Police can only open fire upon a target if an immediate threat to life is present, for example if an armed offender aimed a firearm at a member of the public or an officer that would constitute such a threat. [ [http://www.westmercia.police.uk/publications/acpopoliceuseoffirearms.htm West Mercia Constabulary ] ] AFO's should give a clear oral warning of the intent to use firearms, giving the subject time to observe the warning, unless to do so would place undue risk of death or serious harm, or it would beinappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the particular incident. [ Chapter 5.1 ACPO Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms ] ] An example of this would perhaps be when approaching someone who is believed to be intent on committing a suicide bombing. However, if
Operation Kratoscontingency plans are activated, if the armed officer has been authorised by a very senior officer, then the officer may shoot to kill. It is the individual officer's decision to use their weapon in the majority of occasions and when they do so they must be prepared to justify their actions in a Court of Law. They are trained to shoot once at the central mass in order to stop the threat, then immediately re-assess the threat posed in order to justify any further shots.
Training to enter the Firearms Unit is one of the most rigorous training regimes in the modern UK Police Service [ [http://www.met.police.uk/co19/ Metropolitan Police Service - Central Operations, Specialist Firearms unit (CO19) ] ] Officers have to undergo a selection process to filter out those deemed unsuitable for the role, they also have mental checks to determine whether they are mentally fit to carry a firearm.
When a hostage situation arises, the
Authorised Firearms Officers from an ARV are first on the scene and will attempt to contain the suspect if they are inside a building. If in the open where there is an immediate threat to bystanders, a quicker solution is sought. If the situation in a building requires specialist entry due to barricades or is a hostage situation affiliated with terrorists involving exceptional firepower, Specialist Firearms Officers would be called upon, pending authorisation for them to be deployed, in which case the ARV officers would arrange to set up an inner and outer cordon, the inner being made up of armed officers and the outer of unarmed officers usually to prevent journalists and bystanders from gaining entry. Also, all efforts are made to evacuate the public from the immediate surrounding area, so that they are not at risk of stray gunfire. Also, a control room would be set up where the emergency services involved can plan the operation, along with a mobile canteen.
United Kingdom Special Forces, most commonly the Special Air Service, could be put on standby (depending on the situation, and the individuals' objectives). If it is not deemed necessary for an assault by the Special Forces, Specialist Firearms Officers would do so instead. As soon as a hostage situation presents itself an Observation Point (OP) is allocated and assigned a marksman. Then a Deliberate Action Plan (DAP) will be devised, briefing each member in full about the entry points and details of the assault. Negotiations are made allowing the hostage takers to issue demands - although commonly these are made to acquire time and avoid harm to the hostages. The negotiations will be attended by a psychological profiler in order to asses the hostage taker's state of mind and whether they have a wider objective or have been forced into the situation while avoiding arrest.
If negotiations deteriorate to a point where hostages are at risk of immediate death or injury, an assault by
Specialist Firearms Officers may be authorised. In some cases, if the incident is related to terrorism, the Police may hand over responsibility to the British Army, Special Forces.The structure of such teams may vary, but the most commonly deployed positions are:
* A "Shield Man", carrying a heavy ballistic shield to cover the team from being fired upon;
* A "Stick Man", armed with a large baton to engage any unarmed offenders;
* A Method of Entry Specialist, responsible for opening barricaded doors usually armed with a Remington,
* A "Cover man", protecting the other team members as they go about their jobs;
* A "Prisoner reception" officer, responsible for handling prisoners;
* A team leader, usually a
Police doghandler may also enter, depending on situation.
After the Firearms officers have made the premises safe, and cleared it of offenders, forensics
Scenes of Crime Officers will gather evidence to build a picture of events, including the source of any fired shots. After this, the officers make their weapons and the offenders safe and seal them in evidence bags so they can be examined and used in court. The officers directly involved in any assault are entitled to a twenty-four hour rest period before regaining duties, arranging court dates and giving statements.
Legal status of the use of firearms
Firearms Intelligence Unit
Most notably the
Metropolitan Police Serviceoperate an FIU to gather intelligenceabout known criminalswho carry firearms as a matter of routine. Because they are usually involved in more serious crimes such as drug dealing, armed robberies and gangactivites. Also they gather intelligence about incidents where Firearms are involved or likely to be the FIU gather such intelligence so SFOs have an idea about the size and expected weaponry of the situation, and the number of hostile offenders in a premises.
These officers are a branch of the
Criminal Investigation Department(CID) work in unison with AFOs and SFOs providing them with intelligence. The most notable FIU Operation is Operation Tridentdesigned to cut down shootings in London's black community.
Types of firearms officer
Authorised Firearms Officerare trained in all weapons issued to his/her police force as well as battlefield medicine, which includes the treatment of gunshot wounds. They also crew Armed Response Vehicles.
Specialist Firearms Officerare qualified as an AFO, with extra training within a specific area, such as specialist weapons, Close Protection, Tactical Medicine, Tactics Advice, Advanced Police Driving or Police Firearms Instruction, and are commonly the firearms officers to assault a building in a hostage situation.
Firearms in service vary between forces in the UK as individual
Chief Constables and Police Authorities retain considerable independence.
Despite being armed, Authorised Firearms Officers still carry the standard issue telescopic baton, CS/PAVA incapacitant spray and
Hiatts Speedcuffs. However, instead of wearing a stab proof vest a ballistic one is worn. Officers carry a mobile phone and two radios, one for the force frequency and the other to communicate with other AFOs on the team. The radios the Firearms Officers are issued with, are altered so that the officer does not have to take his/her hands off of the firearms, to send and receive messages.
Although most forces have adopted the white shirt for all its officers, in some the AFOs wear a dark blue shirt instead of the standard white. Specialist Firearms Officers normally wear fire retardant overalls when on duty and may or may not carry batons, incapacitant spray and other equipment depending on the nature of their allocated duties.
The vast majority of firearms that are used by the British Police are "Semi-Automatic", this means that the firearm only fires one round with each pull of the trigger as opposed to a fully automatic weapon gun, as used by the Military.
Despite being armed, firearms officers still belong to a police force. Also, they have identical police arrest and search powers, to their unarmed collegues. Firearms officers carry a
Warrant cardwith the isignia of their force, for idetification. Along with a firearms training card, detailing what weapons and tactics they are trained on.
Alternative names for firearms units
Devon and Cornwall Constabulary: Tactical Aid Group
Metropolitan Police Service: Specialist Firearms Command Previously SO19 now CO19
* Kent Constabulary: Training and Tactical Firearms Unit
City of London Police: Tactical Firearms Unit
Firearms units outside the UK
Specialised armed police units exist even in police agencies where officers are routinely armed. Possibly the best known of these are the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams of many American police services. Other examples include
Australia's Special Weapons and Operations Squad(SWOS) and the Special Tactics and Rescue force in Singapore. These units are not intended to deal with routine firearms related incidents, as these are handled by divisional officers as they carry a firearm as a matter of routine. These units are normally only called when firearms incidents are of such a nature that they are beyond the capabilities of divisional officers. The "Firearms Units" within the United Kingdom are different because they respond to all firearms related calls as few other personnel carry firearms.
Police use of firearms in the United Kingdom
* [http://www.global-defence.com/2003/police_03.htm Armed Law Inforcement]
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/nov/04/ukguns.ukcrime Guardian Newspaper Article]
* [http://www.lancashire.police.uk/index.php?id=1212 Armed Response Vehicle]
* [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/hundreds-more-armed-police-to-join-londons-terror-fight-501825.html Independent Newspaper article]
* [http://www.westmercia.police.uk/publications/acpopoliceuseoffirearms.htm Police use of Firearms]
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6497417972412615851 Defunct SO19 in action]
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