Neither the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) nor the Home Office would be drawn on whether the 'shoot to stop' switch comes with the added endorsement of political support for a "far more aggressive" approach.
New guidance means firearms officers can now shoot terrorists at the wheel of moving vehicles to stop them being used as mobile weapons, following the deadly atrocities in London, Stockholm, Nice and Berlin.
Last month, Khalid Masood killed four people on Westminster Bridge when he mounted the pavement in a car and ploughed into pedestrians before going on to fatally stab Police Constable Keith Palmer outside the Houses of Parliament.
Officers were previously discouraged from firing at drivers of moving vehicles because of the additional dangers it posed with an "increased risk to the public" of bullets bouncing off the glass in such attacks, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman said.
But NPCC Lead for Armed Policing Mr Chesterman said forces had seen some “very horrible and different tactics lately involving vehicles and lorries”, adding: “If the vehicle is being used as a weapon in the first place, there aren't many tactics available in relation to stopping it, particularly a very large lorry."Driving a vehicle in front of it for example is not going to stop it. So you need to shoot the driver."
As well as a policy change, officers now have the “right ammunition” to penetrate doors and windows, added Mr Chesterman who also announced that a two-year recruitment drive for counter terrorism specialist firearms officers (CTSFOs), which began in April 2016, would be extended by eight months to the end of 2018.
“We are looking to double the size of the CTSFO team that was built for the Olympics in 2012,” Mr Chesterman added.
However, Mr Chesterman stresses that the skills of the officers now being trained is "phenomenally different" from previous years following investment in recruitment and training.
“We now have the capability to deliver much more,” he says. “We have the ability to move much quicker to resolve situations. Previously the approach was to locate, contain and neutralise. Now it is to locate and confront.
"Our tactics are more aggressive."
But with armed policing a voluntary role, recruiting, training and retention remains a challenge for all forces, Mr Chesterman said, warning that concerns over the way officers are treated after fatal shootings could act as a "tipping point" and discourage people from joining or staying on.“Officers who serve as part of firearms units are volunteering themselves for an immensely difficult and dangerous role that will put them in harm’s way,” he said.
“They naturally have concerns about the impact their job could have on their families. They need to know they will be supported in the rare instance that they might discharge their firearm.”
The dilemma for firearms officers is reflected in the concerns of Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) firearms lead Che Donald who sees, on the one hand, the "entrenched position" of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) against “what is potentially an act of heroism by an officer”.Mr Donald added: “A change in tactics is not going to stop an officer doing their duty to protect the public, or themselves.”
He went on to question whether the IPCC’s stance on the ‘separation’ of officers after a fatal shooting was justified, adding: “How beneficial is it to take an officer to the post-incident suite an hour and a half after discharging a firearm.
“If an officer wanted to collude, he would have 90 minutes to get the story straight with a colleague before having to give his side of the story.
“As I see it, it’s putting a bolt on the stable door after the horse has gone.”
Mr Donald said the Duggan inquiry had conclusively proved that separation should not be necessary.
He added: “The Court of Appeal ruling said there was no need for an officer to be separated as a matter of course. If second highest court in the land says so, surely we should be acting on that.”
The NPCC passed the question of whether the policy change had political support from government on to the Home Office. A spokesperson declined to comment, pointing out that the operational demands of any ‘shoot to stop’ policy were matters for the forces alone.
The PFEW reaction suggested that “support” from the public perspective will “only come through education”. Mr Donald added: “Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there on the discharging of a firearm.”
The IPCC disputed the “myth” that it treated officers as ‘suspects’, following fatal incidents.
In post-incident procedures, it said: “We start from a position of separation and how best evidence can be achieved. We ask no more of officers than they expect from members of the public.
“We do not isolate them. Unfortunately, there is a picture painted of officers in the aftermath of a traumatic incident in a room all by themselves in anguish, which is absolutely not the case.”
It went on: “Separation of witnesses is usual practice during police investigations and it's the practice we believe should take place after a death following police contact.
“That does not mean we treat or regard officers as suspects from the outset. We investigate deaths with an open mind and assess the evidence impartially.”
The IPCC has completed investigations into 24 firearms incidents since 2010. In all but three, officers have been treated throughout as witnesses. In 12 years it has used powers of arrest only once during a fatal shooting investigation.
There are now 640 more firearms officers protecting the public in England and Wales than this time last year, largely financed by a £143 million Home Office programme with forces paying for additional officers.
The current increase in firearms officers – eventually leading to an extra 1,500 in number – will take levels back up to more than 7,000 in the 43 Home Office forces, similar to the figures seen at the start of the decade. The Government is funding 1,000 extra armed officers, while forces are paying for 500 more.
In addition, there are also 3,500 armed officers with British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the National Crime Agency and Ministry of Defence Police