Specialist Operations is a directorate of the Metropolitan Police. At its peak, SO was a group of twenty specialist units, which were formed to give the Metropolitan Police a specialist policing capability. The SO designation was implemented in 1986 as part of Sir Kenneth Newman's restructuring of the Metropolitan Police Service. Most of the units designated SO units were already in existence, many of them as departments of C Division and its branches, and all were presided over by an Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations (ACSO).
Specialist Operations is made up of three Commands, commanded by Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Protection Command is split into three units that provide protection for ministers, the royal family and foreign embassies, diplomats and visiting dignitaries:
- Specialist Protection (SO1)
- Provides armed personal protection services for ministers, and public officials at threat from terrorism, including visiting heads of government and other public figures.
- Royalty Protection (SO14)
- Provides protection of the Monarch and other members of the Royal Family. The OCU is divided into Residential Protection, Personal and Close Protection, and the Special Escort Group (SEG), who provide mobile protection.
- Diplomatic Protection Group (SO16)
- Provides protection for foreign missions in London, including protecting embassies, and the residences of visiting heads of state, heads of government and ministers.
The Security Command consists of three units that provide protection of the Parliament and the two airports within Greater London (Heathrow Airport and City of London Airport), and organise security for major events in London.
- Responsible for the protection of the Houses of Parliament. It consists of a team of 500 people and its officers are not armed.
- Provides policing and security for Heathrow and London City airports. London's other airports, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton are policed by Sussex, Essex and the Bedfordshire Police respectively, as they are not located in the Metropolitan Police District.
- This command is mainly tasked with planning and advising. It plans the security for major events in London and has specialist search teams that carry out searches of key locations before big events. It also has a group of Counter Terrorism Security Advisors (CTSAs) who provide counter-terrorism advice to businesses in London, and also handles the Project Griffin terrorist awareness activities within the Metropolitan Police District.
Counter Terrorism Command
The Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) is a counter-terrorism investigative unit that was created in 2006 through the merger of the Met's Anti-Terrorist Branch and Special Branch. It is tasked with protecting London and the UK from the threat of terrorism through intelligence gathering, analysis, investigations and operational support activities. It has a staff of 1,500.
Due to continual restructuring of the Metropolitan Police, only a few of the original SO units still exist in their original form and still use the SO designation. Where the SO designation has been reassigned to another unit, the units are listed in order
- SO1 – Specialist Protection ( (Now within the Protection Command)
- SO2 – Crime Support Branch/Department Support Group
- SO3 – Scenes of Crime Branch/Directorate of Forensic Services (Now part of the Specialist Crime Directorate as SCD4 Forensic Services)
- SO4 – National Identification Service
- SO5 – Miscellaneous Force Indexes/Child Protection (now SCD5 Child Abuse Investigation Team)
- SO6 – Fraud Squad (now SCD6 Economic and Specialist Crime)
- SO7 – Serious and Organised Crime (Renamed to Serious and Organised Crime Group, SCD7)
- SO8 – Forensic Science Laboratory
- SO9 – Flying Squad (Now in SCD7, but retains same name and role).
- SO10 – Crime Operations Group (now SCD10 Covert Policing)
- SO11 – Criminal Intelligence Branch (Renamed to Public Order Operational Command Unit, CO11)
- SO12 – Special Branch (Merged with SO13 to create the Counter Terrorism Command)
- SO13 – Anti-Terrorism Branch (Merged with SO12)
- SO14 – Royalty Protection Branch (Now within the Protection Command)
- SO15 – Counter Terrorism Command
- SO16 – Diplomatic Protection Group (Now within the Protection Command)
- SO17 – PNC Bureau (now the Police Information Technology Organisation)
- SO18 – Aviation Security/Airport Policing (Now Aviation Security Operational Command Unit within Security Command)
- SO19 – Force Firearms Unit (Specialist Firearms Command, CO19)
- SO20 – Forensic Medical Examiners Branch