Armed Police Operations up 19 Percent in One Year, Highest Level Since 2010

TOPSHOT - Armed police patrol near Oxford street as they respond to an incident in central London on November 24, 2017. British police said they were responding to an 'incident' at Oxford Circus in central London on Friday and have evacuated the Underground station, in an area thronged with people …
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty

The number of armed police operations in England and Wales has risen by 19 percent in the past year, reaching its highest level since 2010 amidst rising violent crime and terrorism.

Figures released by the government’s Home Office Thursday has revealed that there were 18,746 armed police operations in the year up to March 2018.

Of the near-20,000 incidents, only 12 actually involved officers discharging their weapons — up from 10 in the previous 12 months and including last June where police shot dead London Bridge terrorists Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane, and Youssef Zaghba.

The Home Office said that “The use of firearms by the police should always be a last resort, considered only where there is a serious risk to public or police safety”.

London accounted for the largest proportion of all police firearms operations with 5,142 (27 percent) operations, followed by the West Midlands with 3,312 (18 percent), and Yorkshire and the Humber with 2,130 (11 percent).

The highest increase year-on-year was in the West Midlands region — which is reported to be suffering “epidemic” levels of violence and has the fastest growing rate of knife crime outside London — with a 53 percent rise in armed deployments, to 1,145.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on armed policing, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, said: “The threat from international terrorism and increases in violent crime have both contributed to an increase in the numbers of armed deployments.

“A significant proportion of these will be where armed officers have been deployed as a contingency, for example at public events where there are large crowds in order to keep people safe.”

Despite the UK’s strict laws on the personal ownership of firearms, gun crime rose by two percent to 6,492 offences, according to official statistics revealed last week. Figures also revealed that offences involving knives or sharp instruments rose by 16 percent to 40,147, and there were 31 percent more rapes, up to 53,977, and 21 percent more other sexual offences, rising to 96,755 on the previous year.

Around 90 percent of Britain’s police officers are unarmed, and a survey from the National Police Federation last year found that just a third of police believe officers should be routinely armed.

The figures released Thursday by the Home Office also show there were 6,459 armed officers at the end of March — an increase of 3 percent (181 officers). This is despite police officers fearing how they will be treated in the aftermath of shooting suspects.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for armed policing Simon Chesterman said in May that part of the problem in recruiting existing officers to train as armed police is that “quite often the main reason they give [for not applying] is that they’re concerned about what will happen to them in the event that they have to discharge a firearm” with ensuing investigations into fatal shootings taking sometimes up to ten years.

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