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Policing 'could be sleepwalking' into making officers carry firearms

NPCC armed policing lead, CC Simon Chesterman, said he has 'never known anything like' the situation currently facing policing after charges were brought against officer NX121.

There's a risk that forces could end up "having to mandate officers to carry firearms”, as armed policing faces a potential recruitment and retention crisis after an officer was charged following the shooting of Chris Kaba.

Mr Kaba died when he was shot through the windscreen of a car in Streatham Hill, south-east London, on September 6 last year.

Met officer NX121 was charged with murder on September 20 this year, and will be named on January 30 when an anonymity order is partially lifted.

NPCC armed policing lead, chief constable Simon Chesterman, said this development - coupled with wider grievances about the misconduct and inquest processes - has made these volunteer officers feel "very vulnerable".

He told the NPCC/APCC summit on Thursday: "The problem we have at the moment is the perception amongst armed officers is that they go out there to do the job, they don’t come to work to shoot people...

“They know that if they make a split-second decision…they know that that decision will be pored over by some very clever people for many years afterwards...

“They’re literally putting their own lives at risk, but also their livelihoods, and more importantly…they’re getting pressure from their families who quite rightly ask the question, ‘why would you do this?’."

While clear that firearms officers should be accountable, CC Chesterman defended the UK's cohort as "the best trained and the most restrained" officers in the world.

He pointed to IOPC statistics which revealed that only three of the 196 deaths following police contact in 2022/23 involved firearms discharges.

“During that year police deployed to about 20,000 armed operations, and discharged shots on three occasions, so that was 0.01% of armed operations…”

After charges were brought against NX121 many of the Met's firearms officers handed in their tickets, an option that was open to them as volunteers.

CC Chesterman said this was "a bit of a wake-up call for us", and also prompted the Home Office to commence its Accountability Review into firearms officers.

“Chiefs have been very clear that there are some areas that we think the Accountability Review needs to focus in on, such as burden of proof in inquests for findings of unlawful killing...[and] some of the rules around misconduct proceedings, where we feel that the pendulum has swung too far against armed officers."

Findings are expected to be reported back to the Home Secretary by the end of the year.

Asked what he would like the outcome of this review to be, CC Chesterman said: "I would say that it won't take much to reassure them; they just want the balance redressed a little bit, so that they feel as if they've got similar and the same protections as members of the public, at the moment that they feel they are treated unfairly."

The lead warned that, unless the balance can be redressed to some degree, "we will struggle to retain the armed officers we’ve got, and we’ll certainly struggle to attract people to the role".

This could see policing head down a dangerous road, with CC Chesterman wary that "we could be sleepwalking into having to mandate officers to carry firearms".

"I'm thinking that if this doesn't go in the direction it needs to go in, and the Accountability Review doesn't deliver and we end up in a situation whereby officers are no longer confident in the protections afforded to them, so they won't carry firearms anymore, we could be in a situation where the only remaining option is to order them to do it."

While "we're nowhere near" this stage yet, he warned that it is a risk.

Moreover, CC Chesterman said that serving officers "couldn't necessarily" be mandated to carry firearms as it's not within their terms of reference. "So you're looking at new recruits".

During the summit session it was highlighted that, while this review may address some of the above grievances, it was ultimately the bringing of criminal charges that prompted officers to hand in their tickets.

CC Chesterman said that this reaction was rooted in officers feeling "really concerned about that decision and the threshold".

He accepted that the Accountability Review - whatever its outcomes - won't alter the independent criminal charging procedure, but stressed that officers do want this process to speed up.

"If you look at the length of time, for example, it takes the IOPC to conduct an investigation - don't get me wrong, these are very complex investigations and I accept they've got a job to do - but when you look at the process; you can have inquests, you can have public inquiries, you can have elongated many months of IOPC investigation, and then it can take many months or even longer for CPS to make a decision."

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