New figures which showed the number of armed officers dropped for the second successive year have been described as ‘worrying’ by PFEW’s Firearms lead.
PFEW National Board member Steve Hartshorn reacted to the release of Home office statistics that confirmed a reduction in Authorised Firearms Officers of 78 since 2019 across England and Wales.
The new data revealed there were 6,543 armed officers as of March 2021 who were operationally deployable, which was a 1 per cent decrease (- 41) compared with the previous year. This followed a similar decrease in numbers (-37) during the previous year.
PFEW’s Firearms Lead Steve said: “Any drop in numbers is disappointing and we need to ensure this is not a continuing trend. That’s 78 highly skilled & experienced officers who have been lost and it’s worrying because we need to understand why this is happening.
“The decrease could be for a variety of reasons. It may be related to the pandemic, and the fact colleagues have not been able to reclassify and are therefore not authorised.
“Some individuals may also have lapsed because through illness as they were unable to attend the annual compulsory development training required for the role. Other factors like maternity, retirement and promotion may also have played a part, but we clearly need to understand more about the reasons for this drop in numbers.”
Former Metropolitan Police CO19 Armed Response Vehicle officer Steve believes the impact of the Police Uplift programme may also have a further detrimental impact on the number of available armed officers in years to come. “For these new officers to become authorised to carry a firearm, they would need to have completed their probation and ideally have a sound operational background prior to applying.
“Therefore, it’s possible the service may experience a natural lag period before individuals are experienced enough to apply and be suitable for these exceptionally challenging roles. This could also impact on the numbers in years to come.”
PFEW’s Firearms Lead also voiced concerns the influx of 6,128 new recruits to March 21 to backfill officers lost through government-imposed cutbacks, and the resultant loss of at least 20,000 officer posts, may have impacted on an ability to recruit into certain roles.
Steve continued: “Overall, it’s a concerning picture, and that’s why it’s crucial we closely examine this issue now and don’t store up problems for the future that could put the public at risk.”
There were 6,543 armed officers as at March 2021, a 1% decrease (-41) compared with the previous year. A similar decrease (-37) was also seen in the previous year. The total number of armed officers includes those operationally deployable as of March 31st 2021. This excludes officers who were absent due to sickness, those on paid leave, and those who were isolating due to COVID-19.