Authorised Firearms Officer

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Authorised Firearms Officers in London, England on 29 April 2011 on duty for the Royal Wedding
Authorised Firearms Officers standing guard at the entrance to Downing Street, London, home of the UK Prime Minister. This Officer is attached to the Diplomatic Protection Group.
West Midlands Police Authorised Firearms Officer with specialist equipment and uniform.

An Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO) is a British police officer who has received training, and is authorised, to carry and use firearms. The designation is significant because in Great Britain most police officers do not routinely carry firearms. However, following the November 2015 Paris attacks it was decided to significantly increase the numbers of armed officers, particularly in London. [1] Also, members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, do routinely carry firearms due to the increased risk of armed violence. The Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary also routinely carry firearms.

In 2014/15 there were 5,647 Authorised Firearms Officers and 14,666 police operations throughout England and Wales in which the deployment of firearms was authorised.[2]

AFOs are often deployed in Armed Response Vehicles (ARV) or on static security duties.


All police forces in the United Kingdom have an AFO selection process,[3] 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 examinations and assessment days, before permission to commence firearms training is given. There is no guarantee of success; candidates can be returned to their previous role at any point in training if they do not meet the required standard.

Once authorised, AFOs must pass regular refresher training and retests in order to maintain their authorisation. Failure to meet the required standards can result in the officer having their firearms authorisation revoked. Health or fitness problems can also result in temporary or permanent suspension from firearms duties.[citation needed]

Use of Authorised Firearms Officers[edit]

AFOs are used by some specialist units of police forces throughout the United Kingdom, who by nature of their role have a requirement to deploy armed police officers. Such units include the Diplomatic Protection Group of the Metropolitan Police Service, Armed Response Vehicles in various police forces throughout the UK, in Airport Policing, and officers of the Ministry of Defence Police[4] and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

Legal status of the use of firearms[edit]

The use 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".[5] The appropriate authorising officer must be of the rank of Inspector or higher.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

United Kingdom law allows the use of "reasonable force" in order to make an arrest or prevent a crime[9][10] or to defend oneself.[11] 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".[12] Firearms officers may therefore only discharge their weapons "to stop an imminent threat to life".[13]

ACPO policy states that "use" of a firearm includes both pointing it at a person and discharging it (whether accidentally, negligently or on purpose).[14] As with all use of force in England and Wales, the onus is on the individual officer to justify their actions in court.[15]

Specialist Firearms Officers[edit]

Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs) are AFOs trained in skills such as dynamic intervention and dynamic entry and may intervene in more serious firearms incidents such as sieges or high-risk pre-planned operations. SFOs receive a higher level of training than AFOs, in areas such as method of entry into various structures and in the use of specialist weapons and equipment.

There are approximately 70 SFOs in London serving with the Metropolitan Police Service.[16] These officers must already have served as an Armed Response Vehicle officer before undertaking an 18-week training course to qualify them to serve in the Specialist Firearms Command (CO19).

Since 2014, a number of SFOs serving with the Metropolitan Police Service have undergone additional training in order to qualify as "Counter Terrorist-Specialist Firearms Officers" (CT-SFOs) due to an increase in terrorist incidents, such as the 2015 Paris bombings and armed-offender rampages (such as in Belgium in 2016), where a higher level of armed response is required from Police to contain active threats. SFOs in other urban-centric commands may also undergo additional training in the near future.

Firearms currently used by AFOs[edit]

Different police forces in the United Kingdom use different firearms. For forces in England and Wales, guidance is provided from ACPO and the Home Office.[17] Decisions on which weapons will be employed by an individual police force largely rest with the Chief Constable.

Metropolitan Police[edit]

Within the London-centric Metropolitan Police, there are a number of Operational Command Units (OCUs) that employ AFOs.

Numbers of AFOs by police force[edit]

The numbers of firearms officers ranges from 33 in Warwickshire to 2,122 in the Metropolitan Police, although outside London there is only one force with more than 200 firearms officers, that being Greater Manchester.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ White, Mark (13 January 2016). "Met Police To Double Armed Officers On Patrol". Sky News. Retrieved 13 January 2016. 
  2. ^ "Police use of firearms statistics, England and Wales: April 2014 to March 2015". Home Office. Retrieved 2016-06-21. 
  3. ^ Waldren, Michael J. (2007). Armed Police, The Police Use of Firearms since 1945. England: Sutton. p. 224. ISBN 0-7509-4637-7. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.2.1
  6. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.6.6
  7. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.8
  8. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 3.8.5
  9. ^ Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Section 117 or Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, Article 88
  10. ^ Criminal Law Act 1967, Section 3 or Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, Section 3
  11. ^ Common Law, as cited in ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 2.3.4
  12. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 2.3.7
  13. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, 5.6.1
  14. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms 3.2.4
  15. ^ ACPO (2003), Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms Chapter 3.3.1
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ "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. 
  18. ^ (28 April 2016). Police use of firearms statistics, England and Wales: financial year ending 31 March 2015: data tables. Retrieved on 16 June 2016.

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