Armed police called out to almost 3,000 incidents in 12 months

Armed police officers in the West Midlands and Staffordshire responded to almost 3,000 incidents last year, official figures show.

Home Office data showed West Midlands Police had 2,477 deployments in the year to March – an average of 48 incidents per week.

And Staffordshire Police deployed armed police to a total of 347 incidents over the same period, an average of around seven per week.

It means armed officers in the region responded to 2,824 incidents overall, which was down from the 2,933 recorded between 2019-20.

And across England and Wales the number of police firearms operations fell for the second consecutive year – to 18,262 from 19,393 in 2019-20.

However the latest period saw armed officers only fire their weapons on four occasions – compared to five the year before, police chiefs say.

Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) lead for armed policing, said: "The discharging of weapons is always a last resort and I’m proud to see that despite more than 18,000 firearms operations, there were only four occasions when our officers were required to do this."

Mr Chesterman also said forces are now better equipped when dealing with operations thanks to an increase in the number of armed response vehicles, with at least one present at 92 per cent of call-outs last year.

"Forces are able to respond to major incidents such as terrorist attacks faster and with greater numbers," he added.

The overall drop in operations came during a year when the UK terrorism threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe" in November, following a series of attacks in France and Austria. However, in February this year, the level returned to 'substantial', meaning an attack was a strong possibility.

The Home Office said the reduction in firearms operations last year may reflect the impact of lockdown restrictions in place during the pandemic. It said armed officers are only deployed to incidents where someone else is armed or is considered so dangerous that use of a gun may be necessary.

And the figures also show there had been a small decrease in the number of firearms officers across England and Wales, which was down one per cent over the year to 6,543 in March.

The count did not include officers absent due to sickness, or those isolating due to Covid-19. However, the number was still 16 per cent higher than five years previously, when a £143 million recruitment drive for around 1,500 more firearms officers was launched.

And as of March 31, West Midlands Police had 221 armed officers – six fewer than the year before, but up by 64 when compared with 2016. And Staffordshire Police, as of the same period, had 89 armed officers – two more than the year before, and up by 15 compared to 2016.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "All forces in the UK have an armed police capability – it is for chief officers to determine the number of armed officers and Taser trained officers in their areas based on a thorough assessment of threat and risk."

It comes after figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there were 721 firearms offences in the West Midlands Police area in the year to March – with the force recording the highest number of firearms offences outside London.

The figure represented a three per cent rise on the previous year and a 17 per cent over five years – and only the Met had a higher rate on 1,281 firearms offences, a drop of 27 per cent, while gun crime also fell in most other areas of the country.

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