‘Numbers of armed police officers will reach 10,000 by next year’

The number of highly-trained firearms officers has been increased since the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Picture: James Hardisty

The number of highly-trained firearms officers has been increased since the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Picture: James Hardisty

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BRITAIN’S armed policing strength will surge to more than 10,000 by next year as forces increase their defences against terrorist attacks.

Counter-terrorism specialists admitted yesterday the threat posed by extremists striking in the UK will mean that numbers in armed policing units will have to continue to be strengthened to try to preserve national security.

The threat of a new strike is severe, according to MI5, and there has already been an increase in the number of authorised firearms officers on hand to respond to another assault.

Giving an update on the rise in staffing, national lead for armed policing Simon Chesterman said there was now a “very potent” capability.

Mr Chesterman, the deputy chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, added: “Although the capacity is very similar to what it was in 2010, the capability is phenomenally different and much improved and increased.

“I am convinced that in terms of what we are actually capable of delivering now, it’s far more than it was.”

Since the Paris atrocity in November 2015 in which 130 people died, there has been a major increase in the number of authorised firearms officers (AFOs) on hand to respond to an assault on UK soil. So far about 640 additional personnel trained to carry guns have been added to forces in England and Wales, with the overall number of AFOs set to rise to around 7,000 by April 2018.

But this figure does not take account of 3,500 armed officers attached to non-geographical forces - the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the National Crime Agency and the Ministry of Defence Police.

When these presences are included, the total number is expected to stand at about 10,500 within the next 12 months.

As part of the recruitment drive, the network of specialist counter-terrorism firearms officers is also set to double in size. Members of these units are highly trained, including in operations involving ships or aircraft.

But Mr Chesterman also warned there was a “perfect storm” brewing in the background, which could hit efforts to attract the best candidates to armed policing and retain current personnel.

He cited factors including concerns among firearms officers that they will be treated as suspects rather than professional witnesses if they are involved in police shootings.

Police forces - including those in Yorkshire - increased patrols in the wake of the Westminster terrorist atrocity last month.

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