World News

Britain considers arming police officers in rural areas

Posted May 17, 2018 6:58 a.m. EDT

— Britain is considering plans to arm police officers in rural areas to help combat potential terrorist attacks, police chiefs have said.

The move comes after the National Police Chiefs' Council revealed that forces don't have enough specialist counterterrorist firearms officers.

Concerns have grown that areas in southwest England and other rural communities could struggle to deal with a terrorist incident given their distance from the nearest counterterrorism team.

Local police in Britain are not routinely armed, and police said such a move is viewed as a last resort in areas that cannot be reached quickly enough by armed response vehicles, which carry officers trained in the use of firearms and the handling of other high-risk situations.

"The overwhelming majority of England and Wales has very good coverage from armed response vehicles. We are continuing to review and discuss options with some forces with harder to reach rural communities, including arming of some response officers," Simon Chesterman, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for armed policing, said in a statement.

"Any change would (be) decided by chief constables based on threat and risk and with wide consultation. Our analysis suggests this is not necessary now but it remains an option on the table.

"Overall, though, forces are now better equipped to respond swiftly to serious threats to public safety, such as the recent terror attacks."

Britain first revealed plans to bolster the number of armed officers in the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks that left 130 dead and hundreds injured.

Since announcing a £143 million ($193 million) program to increase firearms capability in 2016, the 43 police forces under Home Office control have ensured an extra 874 armed officers across England and Wales, increasing the number to more than 6,400 as of April 2017.

While there has been a 70% increase in highest-trained armed officers in two years, police chiefs say they are still 100 recruits short of their target for counterterrorist specialist firearms officers.

In addition, an extra 3,300 armed officers in the British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary and Ministry of Defence Police can be deployed to support a major incident.

But police said the demands of the role of a counterterrorist specialist firearms officer has led to a high turnover rate.

Police admit officers are often discouraged by the level of scrutiny they face when opening fire in the line of duty as well as the lengthy investigations that can follow.

The shortfall in counterterrorist officers has led to a tentative consideration of arming frontline officers in rural communities.

"Of course there are communities within England and Wales where an attack is highly unlikely, where it is very unlikely that something will happen, but ultimately if something does happen, we have got to be able to provide an armed response," Chesterman said.