- A leading police firearms unit has revealed it was “inundated” with requests from unarmed officers to retrain after the Paris terror attacks last November.
In a special report after a week of exclusive access to the West Midlands Police firearms section, Sky News has followed the recruits aiming to join the team that protects almost three million people in the biggest British urban area outside London.
Senior officers have already doubled the amount of armed officers on duty at key times of the day in the West Midlands while leading a national recruitment drive to ensure more officers are qualified to carry weapons.
After five years of declining armed police numbers in the UK, 1,500 officers are now being retrained across England and Wales in response to the current threat from terrorism.
The simultaneous attacks in Paris last November prompted an immediate reorganisation.
Head of the West Midlands Firearms Unit Daniel Delaney told Sky News: “When I looked at that I just kind of thought I hope I never have to deal with that, but I also thought straightaway I have got to prepare in case that ever happens and that is what we have been doing.
“Literally from the Monday afterwards we started planning and preparing then.
“We actually had more officers volunteering for the training than we needed – initially we were inundated but the training programme makes sure only the most suitable candidates progress.”
The Home Office has funded the expansion in armed officer numbers which has particularly focused on major urban police forces where the terror threat is deemed to be highest.
There are various reasons why officers volunteer to retrain but for some like PC Odette Kellerman it is directly linked to the recent terror attacks across Europe.
She told Sky News: “It seems to be getting closer and closer and it used to be ‘what if’ I think now people are ‘when’.
“For me I had to really seriously think about carrying a gun, it is a big, big responsibility but… I can protect myself and the public more by being armed rather than being a PC in a neighbourhood that could be in the wrong place at the wrong time with nothing to protect themselves.”
As well as their own armed response officers, police forces can also call on regional specialist firearms teams as well as the security services and military in the event of a sustained terror attack.
Most major European police forces are routinely armed but despite the changed threat the vast majority of British officers still do not carry weapons.
West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson told Sky News: “I am very committed that British policing has to and will remain a non-armed service. It’s very important because it’s the style of policing we’ve got. Terrorism shouldn’t interfere with that, it’s vital we build good links with the community.
“I think we’ve still got a relatively modest amount of armed officers, I don’t think it will change what’s taking place either in terms of criminals or terrorists and it does improve our ability to respond.”
Source: Sky News (news.sky.com/story/1692581/rise-in-armed-police-training-to-fight-terror)