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  • Writer's pictureAndy Oldham

Armed Policing Part 3 - the SFC

In an earlier blog post I outlined the role of the TFC - the tactical firearms commander - who has responsibility for deciding to deploy armed units, and coming up with a plan.

Above them in the command structure is the SFC - the Strategic Firearms Commander. They are a senior police officer - usually of at least the rank of Superintendent, and in smaller forces they can even be up to deputy Chief Constable level.

In most forces, the SFC is on call and has other duties, although in the biggest forces like the Met, it's a dedicated role and there's always an SFC on duty 24/7.

Once a TFC "declares" a spontaneous firearms job and deploys armed officers, they should then contact the SFC, outline their plan, and seek ratification. In practice this means explaining what's going on, and what has happened so far, and what the plan looks like. The SFC has the option to ratify the plan as it stands, to request adjustments, or to decline to ratify the plan - in which case the armed deployment must be stood down.

The reality is that some spontaneous jobs unfold so quickly, with a collapsing timeframe meaning that the TFC has to focus on identifying the threat and deploying units quickly - meaning there's no time to talk to the SFC. Sometimes they aren't even made aware until after the job is all done and dusted.

Where the SFC is made aware, then their job after agreeing the plan is to stay out of the way and let the TFC get on with it! A good example of this is one August morning when I was the TFC in the chair for a terrorist incident in central London. The SFC came to my location and I gave him a very quick precis and after asking a few questions he gave his authority. He then stepped back and let me get on with what was an incredibly busy job, but stayed nearby in case I had to update him on changes to the plan. The SFC also took on the responsibility for updating the most senior people in the force, including the Commissioner (Met big boss). It worked very well.

It's slightly different for planned jobs - those where the intention is to deploy armed officers at some point in the future - for example to execute a warrant for a wanted person. In those circumstances the SFC is involved early on as the TFC develops the plan. They need to agree that it should be an armed deployment, for starters. For very complicated jobs they may be involved in planning meetings with other teams. Once the plan is complete, the SFC signs it off and "authorises" the deployment.

Ultimately, either way, the SFC has overall responsibility for the plan, and retains ultimate accountability and responsibility.

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