Number of armed police falls despite £150 million recruitment drive

·2 min read
There are around 6,500 armed officers in England and Wales - PA
There are around 6,500 armed officers in England and Wales - PA

The number of firearms officers has fallen for the first time in three years despite a £150 million recruitment drive, Home Office figures have revealed.

In the year to March 2020 there were 6,518 police officers in England and Wales trained to carry a gun.

But that figure was down by more than 100 on the previous year, raising concern that forces are finding it increasingly hard to attract suitable recruits.

The figures come despite a spate of terror attacks in the last year and steady increase in the number of shootings on British streets. 

Firearms officers, who take on one of the most dangerous roles in policing, do not receive any extra pay and could find themselves subject to years of investigation if they make a mistake while on duty.

There have even been cases of police officers being charged with criminal offences including murder after killing a suspect while on duty.

The fall in the number of armed officers comes despite a big recruitment drive, which was launched in the 2016 following the armed terrorist attacks in Paris.

The Government made £150 million available to recruit an extra 1,000 armed officers as part of a five year uplift programme.

But that drive appears to have stalled, despite increasing demand in terms of rising levels of gun violence on the streets

Since November last year there have also been three terror attacks in which six people were murdered and in which two of the terrorists were shot dead by police.

Steve Hartshorn, the firearms lead for the Police Federation said recruitment had slowed down recently but said it was vital standards were never lowered in selecting those who are allowed to carry a gun.

He said: “Being a firearms officer is a physically and mentally demanding job and it comes with huge pressure, both for the officer and their families.

“I think since the uplift programme started in 2016 we have probably just about reached saturation point in terms of the number of police officers who want to apply. It is not for everyone and firearms officers do not get any extra pay.

“I think another factor for some is knowing that they could face lengthy and protracted investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct for doing their job."

The Home Office figures revealed that in the year to March 2020 there were 19,372 firearms operations but that officers only discharged their weapons on five occasions.

Mr Hartshorn said: “As the figures show, it is very rare that a police officer in this country will pull the trigger and I am confident that when that does happen they get it right. Armed police officers are doing a good job in an increasingly violent world.”

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