Armed police numbers down despite rise in number of call-outs

The number of armed police in Lincolnshire has fallen to its lowest level in a decade, despite an increase in operations requiring an armed response.

According to the latest figures from the Home Office, Lincolnshire Police conducted 73 armed response operations in the 12 months to March 2018.

Police

Police

This was an increase of four per cent from the previous year, when armed officers attended 70 operations.

At the same time, however, the number of armed officers in the force fell to 44 in 2018 - the lowest level since current records began a decade ago.

Armed officer numbers were at their highest level in Lincolnshire in 2008, at 77 officers.

Police forces across the country have seen an ‘explosion’ in violent crime over the past year, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales.

This has led to armed police being routinely called to violent incidents, with officers tending to “assume the worst”.

However, a spokeswoman for the Police Federation explained that many forces have been left struggling to recruit enough armed police in recent years.

Some of them, she continued, have also found their existing officers being lured away by the promise of higher salaries in forces such as the Metropolitan Police, which have been on a recruitment drive.

The Home Office figures show that more than a third of police forces in England and Wales saw a reduction in the number of armed officers in their ranks over the last year.

In five forces, the figure reached a ten-year low.

Almost all of these forces recorded a rise in armed police operations over the same period, meaning fewer officers had to attend more calls.

Across England and Wales, the number of armed police operations in the year to March reached 18,746 - the highest number since 2010-11.

Che Donald, vice-chairman and firearms lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “There has been an explosion in violent crime over the past year, with knife crime up by 16 per cent, murders by 12 per cent and gun crime by two per cent.

“In this current climate, if officers are called to a violent incident the preferred option is to deploy properly-trained firearms officers to contain the situation.

“All this is set against a backdrop of increased awareness because of recent terrorist events, such as the London Bridge attack and Manchester Arena.

“As a result, there has also been a heightened presence of firearms officers at events and public gatherings around the country to ensure people are kept safe.

“Police discharges of firearms remain consistently low, which reflects the high standard of training our officers receive, and they only discharge their firearms in circumstances where there is a high risk of injury to the public or the officers themselves.”

Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for armed policing, agreed, saying there had been ‘a number of challenges’ in recruiting sufficient firearms officers but that there had been a significant increase nonetheless.

He added that the country’s police were ‘ready to respond’.

Home Office spokesman said the Government was providing £144 million to increase the numbers and capacity of armed police.

He continued: “The policy in this country has long been that the police should not generally be armed and the number of police operations where firearms are discharged remains low.

“It is for chief officers to determine the number of armed officers in their areas.

“The total number of armed officers has risen over the past year, which likely reflects our investment in the armed policing uplift programme.”