Specialist Firearms Command

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Central Operations Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19)
Active 1966[1] – Present
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Specialist Crime and Operations Directorate
Role Domestic counter-terrorism and law enforcement
Nickname SO19, CO19, blue berets
Commanders
Current
commander
Chief Superintendent Alistair Sutherland[2]

Specialist Crime and Operations Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19) (previously known as SO19 and then CO19) is a Central Operations branch within Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service.[2] The Command is responsible for providing a firearms-response capability, assisting the rest of the service, which is normally unarmed.[2] Within the media it is occasionally compared to the SWAT units of the United States, being seen as London's equivalent. The unit is based at Leman Street Police Station in Whitechapel, Central London.

On occasion, they have been referred to as the "blue berets", as they used to wear these. Today they are more likely to wear either baseball caps or combat helmets (of PASGT type).

Historical use of firearms[edit]

At its formation in 1829 the service did not routinely carry firearms, but Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel did authorise the Commissioner to purchase fifty pairs of flintlock pistols for use in emergencies—such as those that involved the use of firearms.

As time progressed, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, being superseded by early revolvers. At the time, burglary (or "house breaking" as it was then called) was a common problem for police, and "house breakers" were often armed. Due to deaths of officers by armed criminals in the outer districts of the metropolis, and after public calls debating whether Peel's service should be fully armed, the Commissioner applied to Peel for authorisation to supply officers on the outer districts with revolvers. The authorisation was issued on the condition that, revolvers could only be issued if, in the opinion of the senior officer, the officer could be trusted to use it safely, and with discretion. From that point, officers who felt the need to be armed, could be so. The practice lasted until 1936, although the vast majority of the system was phased out by the end of the 19th century.

In the 1860s, the flintlock pistols that had been purchased in 1829 were decommissioned from service, being superseded by 622 Adams revolvers firing the .450 cartridge, which were loaned from the army stores at the Tower of London following the Clerkenwell bombing. In 1883, a ballot was carried out to gather information on officers' views about arming, and 4,430 out of 6,325 officers serving on outer divisions wanted to be issued with revolvers. The now obsolete Adams revolver was returned to stores for emergencies, and the Bulldog 'Metropolitan Police' revolver was issued to officers on the outer districts who felt the need to be armed. On 18 February 1887, PC 52206 Henry Owen became the first officer to fire a revolver while on duty, after being unable to alert the inhabitants of a premises on a fire. Following the Siege of Sidney Street, one thousand self-loading Webley & Scott pistols were purchased. In 1914, the Bulldogs were withdrawn from service and returned to stores. Lord Trenchard standardised the issue of pistols among divisions with the amount of firearms issued depending on the size of the area;[when?] ten pistols with 320 rounds of ammunition were issued to divisional stations, six pistols with 192 rounds per sub-divisional station, and three pistols with 96 rounds to each section station. In 1936, the authorisation to carry revolvers on outer districts was revoked, and at the same time Canadian Ross rifles were purchased in the prelude to the Second World War.

A review in 1952 following the Derek Bentley case found 15% of firearms in service to be defective; leading to Special Branch and Royalty Protection Officers being re-armed with an early version of the Beretta automatic pistol.

Formation[edit]

The Firearms Wing, as it was originally named, was formed as part of the Civil Defence and Communications Branch or D6 by its designation, the wing was formed in response to the murder of three officers.[3] The Commissioner requested applications from officers within the service who had experience in the handling of firearms, such as ex members of the armed forces or those who attended shooting clubs. The officers who applied attended the Small Arms Wing of the School of Infantry to become permanent instructors for the service's newly formed firearms wing. Upon the officers' return to the service they trained firearms officers.

After the unit had changed its name from D6 to D11, level 1 and level 2 officer roles were created. Level 1 officers were made up primarily of instructors, only being operationally deployed after a siege had been established to aid in the resolution of the incident. Level 1 officers qualified using the Webley & Scott revolver, or more recently the Browning High Power self-loading pistol, with some officers being trained and authorised to use the Enfield Enforcer 7.62 mm sniper rifle for counter-sniper roles. Throughout the 1970s, the branch increased in size, with more firearms instructors being recruited to keep up with the increase in the demand for firearms training. During the 1970s, D11 officers qualified in the Smith & Wesson Model 36 and the Model 10 revolvers.

During the early 1980s, a demand for operational firearms support from the department was deemed necessary, owing to the creation of level 2 officers. The role of a level 2 officer was to deploy to pre-planned and response operations that neither involved the taking of hostages nor suspects with exceptional firepower. In 1987, D11 was renamed to PT17, due to it now being a part of Personnel and Training. Officers at that time were issued with Browning self-loading pistols, and Smith & Wesson Model 28 revolvers, along with training on the Heckler & Koch 93.

In response to operational demands, the department underwent drastic restructuring in 1991. The roles of both level 1 & 2 officers were merged to form Specialist Firearms Officer, which continued to have much of the same role responding to pre-planned firearms operation, kidnaps, and sieges. At the same time a new title was created as Authorised Firearms Officer to crew the newly devised armed response vehicles (ARVs) to meet the increase in armed crime during 1991.[4] Using Rover 800 area cars adapted for specialist duties, ARV officers provided rapid response to spontaneous firearms incidents, such as armed robberies, being the first such organised system the capital had witnessed.

Along with the restructuring of officer roles, for the first time the department came under control of the Specialist Operations Directorate, renaming the department to "SO19". Early ARV officers were issued with Smith & Wesson Model 10's, with others being trained in the use of the Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic carbine. The Model 10 was later replaced by the Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. Following a further reorganisation in 2005, SO19 become CO19, due to the department's move to the Central Operations Directorate, at the same time the department was renamed from the Force Firearms Unit to Specialist Firearms Command.

In January 2012 the branch underwent another name change becoming SCO19 due to the merger of Central Operations (CO) and Specialist Crime Directorate (SCD) to form Specialist Crime & Operations.

Whilst the core function of the branch to provide firearms training and support, remains unchanged since its creation, its role continually changes to meet the demands placed on it. The branch today fulfills different roles than it did 30 years ago.

All aspects of armed policing in the UK are covered by guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers in their manual of guidance on the Police use of firearms. This manual provides an overview of the basic principles such as rules of engagement and tactics involved in the use of firearms by police officers in different environments along with details of command structures that are in place in all pre-planned and spontaneous firearms operations.

Current role[edit]

Training[edit]

As of 2007, the Command maintains its training role and is responsible for training the MPS's 2,594 AFOs. These include officers from Protection Command, Counter Terrorism Command, Diplomatic Protection Group, and the Aviation Security Operational Command Unit. Along with the Flying Squad (SCD7(5), Specialist and Royalty Protection Command and the Belmarsh High Security Court Team, as well as the armed officers from CO19 itself. Some Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers are also trained AFOs, as the Central London TSG carry out armed anti-terrorist patrols known as Legion Patrols.

Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs), who are known to crew ARVs 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 training on the Glock 17 Pistol, and the Heckler & Koch MP5 Semi-Automatic Carbine. 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.

AFOs wishing to become Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs) are required to attend an eight-week training course at the Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Centre. However, the potential recruit is only invited to attend the centre if they have successfully passed written psychological tests, and have been security cleared. Usually, the role of an SFO is to intervene in situations that are beyond the control of AFOs, who crew armed response vehicles. Potential SFOs are extensively trained on the safe use of specialist firearms, method of entry techniques to gain access to premises quickly, abseiling and 'fast rope' skills, scenario training such as being instructed to search a specially adapted training area of an aircraft, extensive use of tear gas and stun grenades, safe handling of rescued hostages and rescue techniques, computer simulated 'war games' of potential threats such as terrorist attacks, and training in the use of protective clothing against chemical, biological or radiological attack.

Based at the purpose-built Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Centre (MPSTC), CO19 provides initial and continuation training for all firearms officers within the MPS. There are roughly 24 different courses that are provided by CO19 Instructors. Courses are based on the National Firearms Training Curriculum, to cover the variety of roles covered by AFOs in the MPS. The courses ranges from Firepower Demonstrations (to highlight the dangers of firearms to new MPS Recruits) and Initial Firearms Courses, to Firearms Incident Commander training and National Firearms Instructor courses. There were 683 courses run at MPSTC in the 2006-07 financial year.

Firearms[edit]

All officers operationally deployed are routinely armed with the 9 mm Glock 17 self-loading pistol, and in some cases the X26 Taser. Despite carrying firearms, officers still carry the standard issue personal protective equipment (PPE) such as the; ASP baton, Hiatt Speedcuffs and CS/PAVA Incapacitant spray. They also have access to 9 mm Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic carbine, and L104A1 Baton gun. All ARV officers are trained to administer Ballistic First Aid and are Emergency Life Saver trained. In many instances, ARV crews can arrive at the scene of shooting before paramedics or ambulances, and are frequently required to provide life saving techniques on shooting victims.

Operational firearms support[edit]

Armed response vehicles[edit]

Officers of CO19 in an armed response vehicle (ARV)

ARVs deployed for the first time in London during 1991. Following their success, forces outside of the capital later formed them throughout the early to mid-1990s. The concept of an ARV was influenced by West Yorkshire Police's Instant Response Cars, as used in 1976.

Early ARVs contained a secure safe between the seats containing a .38 Smith & Wesson Model 10 for each member, with two 9 mm Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic sub-machine guns secured in the boot. After ARVs became established, and the practice was accepted for widespread use, the Model 10 revolvers were replaced by more recent self-loading Glock 17s, firing 9 mm rounds.

Revolvers and pistols could be removed from the secure safe by ARV members, if an "immediate threat to life" was posed, in the opinion of the ARV member. Authorisation to remove carbines required authorisation from the control room once they had contacted an officer of ACPO rank. If a high-ranking officer could not be sought to gain authorisation, in an emergency it could be given by a Chief Inspector. In recent years[when?] ARV members have carried their personal pistols on them as a matter of routine, and equipping of carbines rests on the judgement of the individual officer, although the control room must be informed of events.

Each armed response vehicle is crewed by three uniformed AFOs. With each one fulfilling a specific role whilst responding to emergency calls believed to involve firearms, the driver is responsible for getting the crew to the scene in the fastest way possible, with regards to public safety. The navigator is responsible for deciding which route the ARV takes, with regards to road diversions and other factors. The observer is responsible for liaising with other services on the scene, and requesting more support if needed. Most ARVs are specially equipped and adapted BMW area cars, identified as an ARV by the circular yellow sticker the front and back windows, along with a star on the roof for helicopter identification.

The workload of the ARVs has increased dramatically since their inception. In their first year, 1991, they were actively deployed on 132 occasions. In 2006, they deployed 2,232 times in response to 11,725 calls to spontaneous firearms incidents. The average response time of an ARV anywhere in London is just 4 minutes. In the Metropolitan Police Service the radio call sign for ARV's is "Trojan" or "MP 413" as an example.

Tactical support teams[edit]

In 2004, tactical support teams (TSTs) were introduced and provide covert and overt proactive support to other specialist units, such as the Flying Squad or the Specialist Crime Directorate and to Borough Operations. Most of their work is on authorized pre-planned operations and much of it involves supporting surveillance as well as arrest and search operations. The TST role was introduced to help meet the increased demands being placed on the unit and to sit directly in-between the ARV and SFO roles. In the 2006/07 financial year, the TST teams undertook over 280 deployments.

Specialist Firearms Officers[edit]

CO19 officers on training exercise
CO19 officers on house search training exercise

The CO19 Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs) are multi-skilled officers capable of delivering all elements of armed policing, including rapid intervention and hostage rescue. All of the SFOs have served on ARVs prior to applying to become an SFO. The 65 days of intensive initial training includes advanced weapons handling training on a wider range of weaponry, including the Heckler & Koch G36 and G3, abseiling techniques, maritime operations training, dynamic entry techniques and in the use of distraction devices. They also undergo training to conduct operations in CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) environments and to provide a response to terrorist attacks in London as part of the MPS's Operation Kratos.

The SFO teams focus almost entirely on supporting authorised firearms operations and providing a response to developed sieges and other operations of a highly specialised nature. Their level of training, exposure and experience in dealing with such a wide range of armed incidents lead many to consider the CO19 SFOs to be one of the World's leading specialist armed police support units. Ireland's Garda ERU trains annually with SCO19 through the Atlas Network.[5][6] The SFO teams undertook 407 deployments in the 2006/07 financial year.

Firearms in use[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "CO19 History". Metropolitan Police Service. Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  2. ^ a b c "Main CO19 Page". Metropolitan Police Service. Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  3. ^ "Unofficial London Metropolitan Police Firearms Unit". Special Operations. Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  4. ^ "Police Firearms History". Police Firearms Association. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  5. ^ Breen, Stephen (17 April 2013). "We’ve SWAT what it takes". The Irish Sun. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "Poolbeg hosts international counter-terrorism event". December 2013. ESB (Electricity Supply Board). Retrieved 4 May 2014. 

External links[edit]