Force has seen 50% increase in officers carrying guns since Paris terror attacks
Training for a day they hope will never come, these are the firearms officers ready to keep us safe.
In the wake of terror attacks in Paris, London and Manchester, the job of an armed police officer has changed substantially.
Northumbria Police has seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of police carrying guns on a daily basis.
Now, ChronicleLive has gone behind the scenes with the force’s Firearms Support Unit (FSU) to find out what it takes to become an armed officer, and what it is like to carry a lethal weapon every day.
Inspector Louise Galliott-Thornton from the unit said: “It takes a certain type of officer to carry a gun. Not everybody wants to do it.
“These officers don’t get paid any more than any other officers but every day when they pick their weapons up we are giving them a huge responsibility and they could be faced with threats none of us could dream of.
“Every officer will hope they will never be in that situation, but every day they go out it could well happen. We are very fortunate in the Northumbria Police area that we don’t have a high proportion of firearms incidents. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We have got a responsibility to protect the public. That’s the reason we are here.”
Northumbria Police was one of several forces to be selected to receive extra funding for Government for armed officers.
Insp Galliott-Thornton explained that the force’s geographical location in the UK meant it was necessary for a boast in the number of cops carrying guns.
“We want very much to not be seen as an easy target for terrorists,” she said. “You have got to think about where we are. When there is a terrorist incident it’s generally over very very quickly. If we were to get something in Northumbria we need to have that capability to respond very quickly because no one else is getting here for a while.
“With the training they have done and the selection of the new officers I’m satisfied we have the ability to deal with any incident.”
But the daily business of an armed officer has also changed beyond recognition since the more recent terror attacks.
Gone are the days when the public would only see police with guns when they were responding to a major incident or threat.
Now the FSU’s cops carry out daily patrols in the same way as other police, except they are carrying guns.
And they now have a heavy presence at all kinds of events, including football matches and concerts.
“We have armed officers on foot to be able to respond quickly, but also to act as a deterrent,” Insp Galliott-Thornton said. “ We want the public to feel re-assured by their presence not frightened. We are just another part of Northumbria Police.
“Since the national armed uplift, about 18 months ago we had an increase in numbers, we are one of the few police departments that have had that increase. That’s why the public will have seen a big shift in our deployment.”
“We have got a lot of different roles and responsibilities. We do things to protect vulnerable people, we disrupt organised crime groups.
“These groups have a huge impact on communities. We go out on patrol the same as any other police officer. The officers go out everyday, we are out there all the time, whilst always being mindful that if there is a firearms incident we need to be able to respond because it is our duty to be able to provide that quick response and protect our unarmed colleagues and the public.
“They are aware of people who are wanted for recall to prison and we need to get these people off the streets. And we want to support our area command colleagues. things are quite difficult for all the public services as the funds aren’t there that once were. But we need to give the best quality of service we can.
“We don’t just see our role as the firearms side of it. We can get into homes in different ways rather than just smashing the door in. We have got the ability to deliver first aid. We have been first on the scene of road traffic collisions and have helped to save people’s lives.”
But there’s no getting away from the fact that every time the officers leave their base, at Follinsby Park in Gateshead, they are carrying a number of lethal weapons with them.
And for this reason cops have to get through a very strict selection process before being recruited onto the unit, and while officers can put themselves forwards, not every one will make the cut.
Following selection they undergo 10 weeks of intensive training, after which every sixth week is a training week.