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Armed officers at record high as Northumbria Police respond to “explosion” in violent crime

Armed police officers. Picture by Frank Reid
Armed police officers. Picture by Frank Reid
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There are more armed police officers in Northumbria than ever before as forces across the country gear up against the combined threat of terrorism and surging violent crime.

According to the latest figures from the Home Office, Northumbria Police had 151 armed officers as of the end of March, when the last national head count was taken.

This was an increase from the previous year, when there were 146 officers, and an increase of 57% from ten years ago, when current records began.

However, while the numbers of armed officers in the Northumbria force may have swollen to a ten year high, the number of armed police operations actually being undertaken has fallen.

In the 12 months to March 2018, 195 armed police operations were conducted, down from 197 the previous year.

According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, recruitment drives for armed counter-terrorism officers have been ongoing in the areas of England and Wales most at risk from terrorism.

However, many forces have struggled to recruit the numbers they need.

Despite the number of armed officers in England and Wales rising to 6,459 in 2018, more than a third of forces saw a reduction in the number of armed officers in their ranks over the last year.

Council lead for armed policing, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, said: “In 2016, £143million was invested to increase the number of armed officers in the areas at the highest risk from terrorism.

“Chief constables continually assess the threat within their local force area and make decisions on the number of armed offices based on this assessment.

“There have been a number of challenges in recruiting sufficient numbers of Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers and recruitment and training is ongoing.

“In the meantime we have significantly enhanced our national capacity and capability and are ready to respond.”

Police forces across the country have also seen an “explosion” in violent crime over the past year, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales.

In many areas this has led to armed police being routinely called to violent incidents, with officers tending to “assume the worst”.

Across England and Wales, the number of armed police operations in the year to March reached 18,746 – the highest number since 2010-11.

Ché Donald, vice-chair and firearms lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that although there was a “heightened presence” of firearms officers they rarely discharge their weapons.

“Police discharges of firearms remain consistently low, which reflects the high standard of training our officers receive”, he said.

“They only discharge their firearms in circumstances where there is a high risk of injury to the public or the officers themselves.”

Despite the rise in the number of armed officers, a spokesman for the Home Office said it had long been the country’s policy that “the police should not generally be armed”.

He continued: “It is for Chief Officers to determine the number of armed officers in their areas.

“The total number of armed officers has risen over the past year, which likely reflects our investment in the armed policing uplift programme.”