The number of authorised firearms officers in Yorkshire has risen, despite a fall nationally.
Eleven additional officers were recruited by the region’s four forces during a 12 month period when the total number in England and Wales fell by eight.
While each of the forces added officers, eight of the 11 were brought in by West Yorkshire as it continued a concerted effort to increase numbers.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom said West Yorkshire had decided to address declines seen over the past four years as a result of severe budget constraints.
He said: “About 120 officers have come out of our specialist operations areas. We decided to reverse that with firearms officers. We’re uplifting the number of armed response vehicle officers in the uniformed cars and also the numbers in the specialist teams as part of the counter terrorist network.”
The decision was in part prompted by the increased terrorist threat in the wake of attacks on the continent, but also ties in with the force’s sustained efforts to address organised crime in the county.
We will be able to not make cuts and invest a bit more, which is absolutely about protecting the public.Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom, West Yorkshire Police
As well as being the region’s biggest force, it covers the metropolitan districts of Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees. They are home to some significant organised crime groups who use firearms as part of their criminal business.
The recruitment by the force pre-empted a government announcement earlier this year in which funding was pledged for 1,000 more armed police across England and Wales by 2018.
Then prime minister David Cameron said: “After the terrorist attacks in France last year, we decided to look at whether there was more we could do to protect people from the type of terrorist threat we now face. That’s why we are increasing the number of specially trained armed officers up and down the country.”
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics revealed there were 5,639 authorised firearms officers (AFOs) nationally in the year ending March 2016.
There were 64 in North Yorkshire, 87 in South Yorkshire and 80 working for Humberside Police. West Yorkshire had the most AFOs at 136, having increased its numbers by six per cent in the year, and has also been named as one of the forces set to benefit from the government funding.
It will pay for 26 counter terrorist specialist firearms offices to respond to incidents in West Yorkshire and the North East as part of the national network.
The force will fund an additional 26 AFOs who will deployed in armed response vehicles ons firearms operations, as well as responding to any terrorist threat.
Assist Chf Con Milsom said numbers in West Yorkshire had already risen further since March and now stood at around 150.
He said: “What the government funding has meant is that we will be able to not make cuts and invest a bit more, which is absolutely about protecting the public.”