Armed officers in the UK are the best in the world, says the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) in spite of new figures which show a rise in the number of incidents where guns were fired.
Firearms were discharged in 10 incidents over the past year, up from seven in the previous 12 months.
But PFEW firearms lead Che Donald said: “Firearms discharges remain low, down to the excellent decision making shown by our officers, demonstrating that we are still the best trained and most restrained policing service in the world.”
He said the 10 incidents had to be taken in the context of the overall number of police firearms operations, 15,705 in the 12 months to March 2017, according to the Home Office Police Use of Firearms report. This was up 7% from the previous year with the largest number happening in London (4,274) and the biggest year-on-year rise (41%) occurring in the West Midlands.
Mr Donald said: “Undoubtedly the increase is down to the world we now live in. Recent crime statistics show that knife crime has increased by 20% and gun crime by 23%. In addition, this period covers the Westminster terror attack, and after that we had Manchester and then London Bridge with multiple loss of life to innocent members of the public.
He went on to say that direct comparisons with the US where every officer is armed were not possible but added: “On a like-for-like basis, Britain’s rate of firearms use would translate into US police using their guns on 50 occasions in an entire year, which would be an unthinkably low number.”
Announcing the first Federation national firearms survey of its 120,000 plus members since 2006, Mr Donald said: “The question of routinely arming police officers is a challenging one and one that regularly crops up, but, given the current climate, we feel it’s time to seek the views of our members again.
“Policing has changed significantly over recent years, not just around the types of crime we are dealing with and greater use of technology, but also the threat, harm and risk to the public and to officers themselves.
“This survey seeks to determine our members’ views to inform our position on the issue of routine arming. Over the last few years a handful of forces have been surveyed individually on this issue, but we are keen to establish a fresh national view."
The Home Office figures also showed an increase of 639 armed officers (up 11%) from the previous year, bringing the current total to 6,278. “But this is still short of the Government’s promised uplift of 1,500,” he added.