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The key for me is that we have very capable armed officers; the question is whether we have enough of them. So said Simon Chesterman, deputy chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), among the speakers at the Security and Counter Terror Expo (SCTX) at London Olympia last week.
Chesterman, speaking to the annual event as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead on armed policing, described new equipment for armed police that ‘gives them a strong tactical advantage in the dark’. He also went over some of the history of armed police in the UK, and changes in threats which have prompted changes in tactics from the days when armed robberies of banks were more typical. While detailing training of the armed police – all volunteers – he also stressed the ‘multi-agency working; and it’s working very well, I can assure you’ – and training of senior officers who would have the responsibility for ordering and commanding such deployments.
He recalled the March 2017 terror attack on Westminster Bridge, which took 80 seconds from when the attacker mounted the pavement in a vehicle, to being shot dead inside the gates of the Palace of Westminster. Likewise, the terror attack of June 2017 at Borough Market by attackers who were wearing suicide vests – that no-one at the time could know were in fact fake – were shot dead eight minutes after the 999 calls. The much-publicised ‘uplift’ of more armed police prompted by the Paris marauding terror attacks of November 2015 is being targeted, Chesterman said, outside the major cities, ‘at places where we know need protection’. He gave the SCTX audience an insight into how the authorities used census and other data to ‘heat map’ the UK to place armed response where most suited the geography and risk of UK urban areas and ‘crowded places’.
As for his remark querying whether the ‘uplift’ total of 10,000 armed officers (7500 in Home Office forces, plus the CNC, British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence forces) is enough, Chesterman spoke of there being 20,000 fewer police officers than five years ago, so that the police were ‘clearly struggling in terms of resource. Capacity remains the issue,” he said.
As for the armed police – his CNC force, for example, is 100pc armed, tasked as it is with protecting the UK’s nuclear power stations, as featured in the April to June 2017 print issues of Professional Security magazine – Chesterman said: “I have got the utmost admiration for those officers.” His parting message to the audience was: “If you remember nothing else, the next time you see an armed officer, just reflect on what we are asking them to do.” As he added, if something happens, they are the ones to run towards it, when everyone else is running the other way. “We are asking an awful lot of them.”
The day before at the show the CNC were among the winners in the first Counter Terror Policing Awards at the show.
Picture of armed BTP officers outside Euston station in central London, courtesy of BTP.