22 January 2019
A Home Office review into police use of firearms fails to address officers’ concerns around being protected from lengthy and damaging investigations, according to Leicestershire Police Federation chair Dave Stokes.
Dave, who is a fully qualified Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO), said the review’s findings which were published last week more than three years after it was commissioned, were “muddled” and failed to provide clear guidance.
Dave said: “The review should have dispelled the fears of our armed officers about being protected in their roles and not being treated as suspects, but this muddled report does little to address those very real concerns. It has taken three years to produce and doesn’t demonstrate that the issues around police use of firearms have been sufficiently examined.
“Three years on we are still short of more than 600 firearms officers and I can’t see how this review will help forces to recruit the numbers we need to tackle terrorism and violent crime.”
The report was commissioned by the then Prime Minister David Cameron following warnings that a lack of protection for firearms officers would prevent forces recruiting the number they needed to combat terrorism.
It concluded the right legal and procedural protections are in place for officers following a shooting and “in a great majority of incidents officers were dealt with as witnesses rather than suspects”.
“That is cold comfort for officers out there doing the job, knowing that if they are forced to pull the trigger their lives will probably be overturned while they are under investigation, often for years,” said Ché Donald, vice-chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales.
“Where’s the evidence to show this has been looked into diligently, as we would expect for such a responsible role in policing? Because it’s certainly not in this review.”
The Home Office also announced its formal approval of the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) Section 22 post-incident guidance following a death or serious injury during arrest, in or following custody or after a firearms incident.
The Federation outlined its concerns when that document first surfaced last October, most notably across three key areas:
• Separation of officers following incidents
• And the ability to allow them to review their own body-worn video footage before providing detailed statements.
Dave explained: “I am happy that in my Force there is huge investment in terms of Post-Incident Procedures including training with PSD and I understand that we will be doing reality testing exercises with the IOPC. This will then ensure that our armed officers receive the best support possible following any discharge of police firearms.
“I totally accept that AFOs including firearms commanders should be accountable “post-deployment”. That said, no police officer goes to work intending to draw or fire a police firearm. Decisions are often made in split-second moments, under the human effects of perceptual distortion. Following such, those actions are judged in the cold light of day, months and years after the event.”
Ché added: “There was some movement by the IOPC in relation to softening of the language used but we still hold concerns about how it will be interpreted by their investigators. About the only positive thing I can find to say about the whole way this review process has been handled is that it recognises the distress that IOPC investigations and legal processes cause for officers, and it concedes that in a number of cases IOPC investigations take too long.”
Steve Hartshorn says the role is the best job in policing, describing firearms officers as extraordinary men and women, but admits there are times when it feels like the worst job in the world due to the intense scrutiny they face should they have to discharge their weapon.
And he says he wants to ensure they have all the support they need, ranging from their kit to help in post-incident procedures.
“Firearms officers do a unique job within policing in England and Wales,” he writes in a blog on the Police Federation’s website, “Let’s not sugar-coat the pill, they are trained to deal with immediate threats to life and every time they sign out their weapons they realise there is possibility that one day they may be required to pull the trigger. That may well mean that a person dies and such decisions are never taken lightly.
“They are an extraordinary group of men and women and I was lucky to have been one of the few to have performed this role as an armed response officer. It is so important for me as firearms lead for the Federation that I represent them to the best of my ability.
“Full firearms kit, depending on the role or deployment, can tip the scales at up to four stone (25kg). Add to that the weight of expectation heaped on you by the service and society alike, it’s certainly a heavy burden to shoulder.”
He praises the work of the Police Firearms Officers’ Association (PFOA) and the Welfare Support Programme, saying they offer vital support.
Dave explains: “I agree AFOs are extraordinary men and women, but they are men and women who suffer from the same human emotions following lengthy investigations post-deployment.
“I am not afraid to say myself and fellow AFOs shed tears at St Ann’s Square following the tragic Manchester Arena bombing, an example that the intensive training AFOs receive does not take away our humanity.”