Specialist Firearms Officer
A Specialist Firearms Officer (SFO) is a British Police officer who has undergone training in the use of police firearms to a more advanced level than Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs). SFOs receive additional training in areas such as building assault and specialist weapon usage. The common role of an SFO is to assault premises involved in a siege situation, affect high-risk firearms related arrests and respond to terrorist threats.[broken citation]
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.
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.
Authorised Firearms Officers wishing to become Specialist Firearms Officers are required to attend an eight week training course at the National Police Firearms Training Centre in Gravesend, Kent. However, potential recruits are only invited to attend the centre if they have successfully passed written psychological tests, and have been security cleared.
Potential SFOs are receive extensive training in:
- 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)
- Use of tear gas and stun grenades
- Hostage rescue and handling techniques,
- Computer simulated 'war games' of potential threats, such as terrorist attacks
- The use of protective clothing against CBRN attack
In 2005, former SAS trainers expressed concern about the skills and psychological suitability of police officers they had worked with, some of whom appeared "trigger happy" and made mistakes in exercises.
- Morris, Steven (2004-11-04). "By the book: how force trains its firearms unit". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-23.
- 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
- Winnett, Robert (2005-09-18). "SAS trainers denounce ‘gung ho’ armed police". The Sunday Times (The Times). Retrieved 2011-01-25.