Authorised Firearms Officer
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An Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO) is a British police officer who has received training and authorisation to carry and use firearms. The designation is significant because within the United Kingdom, police personnel do not routinely carry firearms. Members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, however, do routinely carry firearms due to the nature of the increased risk of armed violence. The Ministry of Defence Police, who police the UK Defence estate and personnel, and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary who guard civil nuclear energy facilities also routinely carry firearms.
AFOs are often deployed in Armed Response Vehicles (ARV).
All police forces in the United Kingdom have an AFO selection process, varying slightly between each force. As with many police specialities, all Authorised Firearms Officers have volunteered for the role. Candidates are required to gain approval from their superiors before embarking on a series of interviews, psychological and physical fitness tests, medical and assessment days before permission to commence firearms training is approved. There is no guarantee of success; candidates can be returned to their previous role at any point in training.
Authorized Firearms Officers are invited to attend the Training Centre, after they have undergone the written tests and interviews along with the successful completion of their probationary period, with a further two years in a core policing role. The potential AFOs undergo one week of intensive weapons training—in 2012[update] on the Glock 17 self-loading pistol and the Heckler & Koch MP5SF semi-automatic carbine (a semi-automatic version of the fully automatic MP5). Some police forces additionally issue their AFO's with the Heckler & Koch G36, a rifle with accurate range of 800 m. This is followed by a further six weeks of training focused on ARVs, such as driving techniques, high speed pursuit methods and safely executing controlled crashes.
Once authorised, firearms officers must go through regular refresher courses and retests in all aspects of their training in order to keep their firearms 'ticket', such as being tested every four months, and requalifying for the role each year. Failing in any aspect can result in the officer having their ticket revoked. Any health issues which arise can also result in temporary or permanent suspension from firearms duties.
Use of firearms officers
Officers of the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary are routinely armed due to the nature of the establishments they protect. MDP are armed with the Heckler & Koch MP7, L85A2 Rifle, SIG Sauer P226 or MP5 depending on role and location. Civil Nuclear Constabulary are armed with both Heckler & Koch G36 and Glock 17 pistol at all locations, and use heavier weapons (e.g., 30 mm automatic cannon) when necessary.
Legal status of the use of firearms
The usage of firearms by the police is covered by statute (such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and Human Rights Act 1998), policy (such as the Home Office Code of Practice on Police use of Firearms and Less Lethal Weapons and the ACPO Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms) and common law.
AFOs may only carry firearms when authorised by an "appropriate authorising officer". The appropriate authorising officer must be of the rank of Inspector or higher. When working at airports, nuclear sites, on Protection Duties and deployed in Armed Response Vehicles in certain areas, 'Standing Authority' is granted to carry personal sidearms. All members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland have authority to carry a personal issue handgun as a matter of routine, both on duty and off. In all forces, usage of other weapons such as semi-automatic carbines requires further training and authorisation. Semi-automatic carbines are stored in a locked armoury which is situated in the boot of an Armed Response Vehicle. Equipping of semi-automatic carbines rests on a judgment of the AFO.
United Kingdom law allows the use of "reasonable force" in order to make an arrest or prevent a crime or to defend one's self. However, if the force used is fatal, then the European Convention of Human Rights only allows "the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary". Firearms officers may therefore only discharge their weapons "to stop an imminent threat to life" .
ACPO policy states that "use" of a firearm includes both pointing it at a person and discharging it (whether accidentally, negligently or on purpose). As with all use of force in England and Wales, the onus is on the individual officer to justify their actions in court.
Specialist Firearms Officers
Specialist Firearms Officers (SFO), are those AFOs trained in skills such as hostage rescue and deal with major incidents such as sieges or pre-planned operations. SFOs receive a higher level of training than AFOs, in areas such as method of entry into various structures and specialist weapons and equipment usage. There are approximately 70 SFOs in London  all of whom must already have had years of experience on an ARV, before undertaking an 18-week training course to qualify for the Specialist Crime and Operations Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19).
Firearms in use
Different police forces use a variety of firearms. Although, for forces in England and Wales, guidance is provided from ACPO and the Home Office decisions on what weapons will be employed by an individual force largely rest with the Chief Constable.
- The Belmarsh Firearms Team protects trials at Woolwich Crown Court
- The Territorial Support Group has a small pool of AFOs for certain security tasks.
- The Specialist Crime Directorate arms certain surveillance officers.
- Some detectives in the Flying Squad are armed.
- Special Branch deploys armed officers in its surveillance units, and in A Squad, which protects the Prime Minister and other dignitaries.
- Royalty Protection Department, which protects members of the Royal Family and guards royal property.
- Special Escort Group, which escorts and protects high-risk convoys and VIPs such as the Prime Minister and the Queen.
- Diplomatic Protection Group, which guards embassies and government buildings. It also provides the armed guards at Parliament to supplement the Palace of Westminster Division, which is unarmed.
- Aviation Security, which protects Heathrow and London City airports.
- Specialist Firearms Command (CO19), which provides armed support to the rest of the service, crewing Armed Response Vehicles and providing Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs)
- "Statistics on police use of firearms in England and Wales 2011-2012". Home Office. 2013-07-13. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Waldren, Michael J. (2007). Armed Police, The Police Use of Firearms since 1945. England: Sutton. p. 224. ISBN 0-7509-4637-7.
- "UK British nuclear fuel ships armed". BBC. 8 July 1999. Retrieved 27 August 2008.
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.2.1
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.6.6
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.8
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.8.5
- Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Section 117 or Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, Article 88
- Criminal Law Act 1967, Section 3 or Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, Section 3
- Common Law, as cited in ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 2.3.4
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 2.3.7
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 5.6.1
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms 3.2.4
- ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms Chapter 3.3.1
- Daily Mail: I've never lost any sleep when I've had to take someone's life: Police firearms officers speak openly for the first time
- "Police Arms and Weaponry". "All the forces in the UK and Wales are also issued with the 'Firearms Guidance to Police' manual, a lengthy document detailing the legal regulation of firearms in the UK and covers the vast range of domestic legislation and international guidance on firearms use. Codes of practice are also issued by the Home Office providing comprehensive guidance on the policy and use of firearms and less lethal weapons by police."