This article by Justin Davenport appeared in the 29th January Evening Standard:
Evening Standard: Hundreds more gun police to be trained to combat London terror threat
In the current atmosphere of hostile terrorism, Sir Bernard, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, wants to create a 'reserve' of more firearms-trained officers. He intends to bolster the Metropolitan Police's firearms-carrying officers, presently numbered around 2,700.
Now to the point of this blog. Let's imagine we had, say, a thousand officers on London boroughs trained to carry the standard Met firearms – MP5 carbine, Glock pistol and Taser. Those officers might work in normal borough roles but would be available when needed.
What a valuable resource that would be?
Sir Bernard, in this Evening Standard article, fails to mention that until September 2012 we already had exactly this resource. Let me explain.
During the decades up to the 2012 London Olympics each of the 32 London boroughs had dozens of firearms-trained officers. They were experienced coppers who had spent time in the past on armed units, working in areas such as royalty or diplomatic protection, airport security, close-protection or armed response. They moved to borough teams but were encouraged to keep their firearms status.
The 'borough AFOs', as they were called (AFO – authorised firearms officer) were used heavily throughout the 2012 London Olympics, working twelve to sixteen hour shifts in the Olympics venues.
The moment the Olympics finished the AFOs were all dropped.
All AFOs carry small blue cards showing their firearms authorisations. A decision was taken to save money by losing the borough AFOs.
“You still got your blue card?”
“Nah. They've taken it. And you?”
This was the typical conversation between borough AFOs in late 2012. Maintaining firearms officers' skills costs money. To be precise – eleven pence.
£0.11 per bullet. That's roughly what a bullet costs.
So, for each Borough AFO you're looking at roughly two hundred bullets each year – £20 a year. All the Borough AFOs – let's guess a thousand – lost their blue cards, so the Commissioner probably managed to save the Met £20k, ball park figure.
That seems cheap to me, for the cost of maintaining an armed anti-terrorist team who usually work on normal police duties.
They've been useful, but we can't afford to think more than a few months into the future. There might be a terrorist catastrophe in the future, but the important thing right now is that we save a little bit of money.
Now, paraphrased in the Evening Standard article, Sir Bernard says we need more AFOs and he's going to train some up. Has he forgotten that he already had a thousand Borough AFOs, but casually discarded them after the Olympics to save a few thousand pounds?
People! Why do we allow these police decision-makers (Initially I had a pejorative word here, but substituted 'decision-makers'), like the Commissioner, to think this way? Always looking only to the short-term?
That's my criticism here – always always short term thinking.
Ooh we can save a few pennies by doing this. When I've left this job – my knighthood intact – it'll be someone else's problem.
Instead, we should be future-proofing the police, buying decent equipment and buildings. If we have a resource, such as thousands of expensively-trained firearms officers – why throw that away simply to save a few quid now?
I could go on, and describe how all the police buildings on my borough are unfit for humans, and that raw sewage leaks into my locker room from the toilet next door.
But that's another story.