Probably the most unusual feature of the police in the UK is that they do not normally carry firearms. Typically an officer on the beat will be armed with nothing more than a telescopic baton and increasingly CS or pepper spray. While this situation is very popular with public and police alike, and more than adequate for dealing with most suspects, it is not the case when criminals with firearms are encountered. Although nowhere near the levels of many other countries, particularly the US, gun-related crime is an issue in the UK. Drug and gang-related shootings are becoming more frequent, particularly in London and other large cities, and the police often have to deal with other armed suspects.

In cases where a suspect may be armed, the nearest Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) is called to the scene. Each police force in the UK will employ a number of these vehicles, which are regular police patrol cars in most respects, save for the fact that they are equipped with weapons safes and armour, and are crewed with specially-trained Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs).

Crew and weapons.

Each ARV has a crew of three. All will have undergone extensive weapons and procedural training and screening tests. They are always in uniform, and ARVs carry police markings.

  1. The driver.
  2. The operator sits next to the driver, and is responsible for manning the radio and communicating with control.
  3. The watcher sits in the back of the car, and acts as navigator. They will have maps of the area to plan routes to the scene. This is necessary because ARVs cover larger areas than most patrol cars, so it is harder for them to be familiar with all routes.

In the gun safe and floor locker, the car normally carries five weapons.

As well as being popular worldwide for law enforcement and urban combat use, these weapons have the advantage that they can both be loaded with the same 9mm parabellum ammunition.

What to expect from your ARV incident.

Let's say you decide to take your shiny new air pistol for a trip into town. You will remember that all handguns are banned in the UK and that the law treats replica weapons in the same way as real weapons in many cases. A member of the public, upon seeing your weapon calls the police, and the ARV patrolling your area is dispatched. Before firing on you, the officers must issue a warning and identify themselves as armed.


The Manual Of Guidance On Police Use Of Firearms produced by ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers states the policy:

"AFOs shall identify themselves as such and shall give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warnings to be observed, unless to do so would unduly place any person at a risk of death or serious harm, or it would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident."

If the officers still perceive you to be a threat they will open fire, aiming for the torso. This is fatal in most cases. There have been a number of cases where a suspect has been shot dead and it later turned out that they were unarmed. In most cases they were carrying a replica weapon or some other object misidentified as a gun, and they failed to respond to warnings from the AFOs.

There is some debate in the UK about whether the police should be routinely armed. Some of the strongest objections to this come from the police themselves. They don't want to be armed. There are many arguments both for and against the current system of ARVs. The biggest drawback is response time. The first officer to attend an incident will almost always be unarmed, and this can endanger them. In the ARV's favour, it can be argued that it is better to put precision weapons in the hands of a few highly trained specialists rather than arming more, less well-trained officers with less effective weapons. In recent years, the increase in gang-related crime has led to a dramatic jump in the number uses of the ARVs. In 1999, Trojan Units, the name given to the ARVs of SO19, the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police, attended 1440 incidents in London.

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