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  • Writer's pictureAndy Oldham

Armed Policing - Introducing a new series

Updated: May 11

Many TV and film dramas portray British armed police, and as you might expect, there's a whole spectrum of authenticity on show from the amazingly accurate (they must have had a really good Police Advisor!) to the terrible. While much of the audience might not even notice, there's a proportion who will know something isn't right, and that can get in the way of their enjoyment and/or understanding of the story you're trying to tell.

This is the first of a brief series of blog entries which seeks to explain a little about how armed police officers are deployed and commanded in British police forces. If you want to be notified when new blog posts drop, then please do sign up for the mailing list here.

Let's start with a bit of an overview.

Most* British police officers are not routinely armed (I know some overseas viewers are amazed at this). There are lots of reasons for this - the UK has strict gun control laws and firearms remain rare even in the criminal population. The public prefer to by policed "by consent", and police forces are a civilian resource which have resisted becoming militarised, as has happened in some other countries.

Where unarmed officers need firearms support, it is provided by police officers with special training and accreditation. There are varying levels of training and expertise, but by default, firearms officers are known as authorised firearms officers - AFOs.

You may be surprised to learn that there are only around 6,000 armed officers in England and Wales (Scotland has an additional 500 or so).

So what do all these armed police do?

A fair proportion will be deployed on guard duties and patrols to tackle and deter criminals and terrorists - for example, guarding nuclear facilities and bases, high profile locations (like the Houses of Parliament and 10 Downing Street in London), as well as embassies.

A large number of these armed officers will have received extra training and are then deployed on Armed Response Vehicles - these will be the topic of a future blog, so check back for that.

And a small number will have been assessed and selected to receive lots of additional training to become CTSFOs - Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers, who deal with the most serious, determined and dangerous criminals - often as the name implies those involved with terrorism, but not always. I'll also do a blog post about these strange beasts in future!

How are they deployed?

The deployment of armed officers, whether in response to a spontaneous incident, or as part of a planned operation, must be authorised by an appropriately trained and accredited officer of at least the rank of Inspector - they are known as a Tactical Firearms Commander, or TFC. This is the job I did for the Met for years!

Also involved in the command structure is a Strategic Firearms Commander (SFC), a senior officer with strategic overview of any armed operation, and an Operational Firearms Commander (OFC), deployed on the ground with the armed team, responsible for delivering the TFC's plan. I'll be writing blog posts about all these roles in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for them.

Armed deployments use various pieces of kit and equipment, and follow set tactics and rules. It's probably the most regimented, highly disciplined and accountable areas of policing. There's more to it than pointing a gun and shouting "armed police"!

In the 12 months to end of March 2023, armed officers were deployed to 18,395 firearms operations. Of those incidents, there were only 10 occasions where firearms were discharged. So you can see that it's a tiny percentage of deployments where armed officers are actually put in the position where they have to discharge their weapon. They rely on their training, discipline, persuasive powers and non lethal equipment to ensure that pulling the trigger is a last resort.

I think that'll do for the introduction - lots more to come, so keep an eye on the blog page if you're interested to find out more.

The Police Advisor: If your next Film or TV Production, Script, Book or Story is portraying armed police, then let me help you to give your piece that extra authenticity it deserves!

*A notable exception to this rule are police officers in Northern Ireland.

(Figures to end of year March 2023. Source: E&W Scotland)

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