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Firearms officers' numbers fall

Police use of firearms has slightly risen in the past year - as the number of firearms officers hit a seven-year low.

The figures prompted the Police Federation of England and Wales to call on the number of officers to be increased.

The latest Home Office statistics show there were 14,753 firearms operations in the year ending March 2016, a 0.5 per cent increase on 2014/15.

However, the number of authorised firearms officers (AFOs) decreased over the same period to 5,639, meaning there are now 1,267 fewer AFOs serving in the UK than there were in 2009.

Che Donald, firearms lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), said: "The PFEW has repeatedly raised concerns around adequate numbers of firearms officers and we remain curious as to where this extra number will come from, with the latest workforce data showing a further decrease of 3,000 police officers.

"While the argument for sufficient numbers to help manage any potential terror attack on UK soil speaks for itself, the support firearms officers give to our unarmed colleagues is just as important.

"The falling officer numbers means double-crewing is becoming a luxury, which leaves officers alone and unarmed in dangerous situations, this is particularly relevant for those working in a rural environment.

"Those officers need to be reassured that should they need the support of an armed colleague to deal with a situation, help is on hand - unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly difficult."

The Government has said it will recruit another 1,500 AFOs to make up the current shortfall but the promise was made after the period covered by the statistics, so any impact has not yet been seen.

According to the National Police Chiefs' Council, forces are still on track to deliver the extra AFO numbers over the next 18 months and the majority of new firearms officers are expected to be deployable by April 2017.

The statistics showed that only seven shots were fired compared with six in the previous period. They also showed firearms officers are also being used more regularly to assist in dealing with emergency calls, because, PFEW says, there are no other police officers available.

Che went on to outline how crucial it is to ensure that when a weapon is discharged, there are adequate protections afforded to officers.

"These AFOs are acting on behalf of the state in undertaking their duties, a role which requires volunteers to come forward," he said, "It is interesting that the Government has been largely silent since the former Prime Minister announced a review into these protections (December 2015). We are also still waiting for the draft IPCC guidance on deaths following police contact, which is currently with the Home Office.

"In light of the atrocities and vulnerabilities being played out on national media following terror attacks worldwide, I would have expected these concerns to have been addressed by now in order to offer reassurance not only to these armed officers but also the public they have vowed to protect. Not doing this only adds uncertainty to current AFOs and also those who are considering applying."