Specialist Firearms Command
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|Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19)|
|Role||Domestic counter-terrorism and law enforcement|
|Part of||Metropolitan Police Service|
|Nickname(s)||SO19, CO19, SC&O19, MO19, '19', 'Trojan'|
|Colours||Blue (ARVs) & Grey (CTSFO's)|
The Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19) is the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police Service. The Command is responsible for providing a firearms-response capability, assisting the rest of the service which is not routinely armed.
They are full-time units whose members do not perform any other duties. 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 blue baseball caps or combat helmets.
Historical use of firearms
At its formation in 1829, the police 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As time progressed, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, being superseded by early revolvers.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 killings 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 in 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. 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In the 1860s, the flintlock pistols that had been purchased in 1829 were decommissioned from service, being superseded by 622 Beaumont–Adams revolvers firing the .450 cartridge, which were loaned from the army stores at the Tower of London following the 1867 Clerkenwell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 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 semi-automatic pistol.
As it was originally named, the Firearms Wing (designation D6) was formed as part of the Civil Defence and Communications Branch. The wing was formed in response to the murder of three officers. 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 were sent to 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, the Instructors possessed a limited operational role that consisted of providing CS gas at sieges. This progressed to providing tactical advice and support and in 1975 as a direct result of the Munich Olympic games massacre, D11 was formally given an operational role in Counter Terrorist and serious armed crime operations. Its officers qualified using the Smith & Wesson Model 28 or Model 19 .357 revolverS, Browning Hi Power self-loading pistol, the Heckler & Koch MP5 SD (Suppressed)Sub Machine Gun and the Remington 870 shotgun with some officers being trained and authorised to use the Enfield Enforcer 7.62 mm sniper rifle and Heckler & Koch 93 semi-automatic rifle in 5.56mm for counter-sniper roles. Throughout the 1970s, the branch increased in size, with additional firearms instructors being recruited to meet the increase in the demand for firearms training. During the 1970s, D11 officers qualified their students in the Smith & Wesson Model 36 and the Model 10 revolvers.
In response to operational demands, the department underwent restructuring in 1987 becoming PT17 (Personnel & Training) and the introduction of non instructors who formed level 2 teams. Their role was to deal with pre-planned and response operations not involving hostages or suspects with 'exceptional firepower'. These tasks remained the responsibility of the teams of Instructors who became Level 1 teams. In 1991 following the shooting and stabbing of several police officers, the Armed Response Vehicles (ARV's) were introduced and put under the control of the unit drastically increasing its manpower and necessitating its move to Specialist Operations and a new designation of SO19, the Force Firearms Unit.
The unit maintained its training role and continued to train the Met's 4,800 shots who were redesignated as Authorised Firearms Officers (AFO) The Level 2 officers underwent enhanced training and those that passed joined selected Level 1 instructors to become SFO's (Specialist Firearms Officers). SFO teams replaced the old Level 1 and 2 structure becoming full-time tactical teams dealing with all pre planned armed operations (Robbery ambushes, warrant service and hostage situations etc) within the Met and providing specialist support to the ARV's.
ARV officers provided rapid response to spontaneous firearms incidents, such as armed robberies, being the first such organised system the capital had witnessed. Early ARV officers were issued with Smith & Wesson Model 10s, 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 became 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. Since then SCO19 has again been re-designated as MO19[circular reference], a result of the 2018-19 restructuring, putting it under Met Ops while maintaining the title of SCO19.
While 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 planned and spontaneous firearms operations.
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As of 2007, the Command is responsible for training the 2,594 Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). These include officers from Protection Command, Counter Terrorism Command, Diplomatic Protection Group, the Aviation Security Operational Command Unit, the Flying Squad (SCD7), Specialist and Royalty Protection Command and the armed officers from SCO19 itself.
Potential AFOs are invited to attend the Training Centre after they have undergone the written tests and interviews, and successfully completed their probationary period with a further two years in a core policing role. They undergo two weeks of intensive training on the Glock 17 Pistol and the Heckler & Koch MP5 carbine both weapons use 9mm rounds. This is followed by a further seven weeks of training focused on ARV tactics and searching buildings.
ARV officers wishing to become Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs) are required to attend an eighteen-week training course at the Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Centre (MPSTC). 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 execute pre-planned operations or intervene in situations that are beyond the role of ARV officers. Potential SFOs are extensively trained on the safe use of specialist firearms, method of entry techniques to gain access to premises quickly (e.g., abseiling and 'fast rope' skills), scenario training (e.g., searching a specially adapted training aircraft), extensive use of tear gas and stun grenades, safe handling of rescued hostages and rescue techniques, computer-simulated 'war games' of potential threats (e.g., terrorist attacks), and training in the use of protective clothing against chemical, biological or radiological attack.
Based at MPSTC, SCO19 provides initial and continuation training for all MPS firearms officers. There are more than twenty courses provided by SCO19 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.
Operational firearms support
Armed response vehicles
Armed response vehicles (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 carbines 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 Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) rank. If a high-ranking officer could not be sought to gain authorisation, such could be given by a Chief Inspector in an emergency. 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 while responding to emergency calls believed to involve firearms. The driver is responsible for getting the crew to the scene in the fastest way possible, but with the main emphasis on public safety. The navigator is responsible for deciding which route the ARV takes, for example, to avoid road diversions and other factors. The observer is responsible for liaising with other services on the scene, and requesting additional support if needed. Since the observer is the only officer with access to the weapons safe inside the vehicle, it is their responsibility to distribute the carbines to the other officers if they are anticipated to be required immediately on-scene. Otherwise, they can be accessed from the boot of the vehicle. Most ARVs are specially equipped and adapted BMW area cars, identified as an ARV by a circular yellow sticker on the front and back windows, along with a star on the roof for helicopter identification. All Metropolitan Police ARVs have the callsign 'Trojan'.
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 in London is 8 minutes.
SCO19 currently[when?] use BMW X5s as their ARVs. Before these, BMW 5 series were used; however, these have become difficult to obtain, and most have been phased out of service in the MPS.[needs update] As of 2014,[update] every SCO19 officer carries a personal-issue Glock 17 self-loading pistol and a more recently updated Taser model X2. On each ARV there are also SIG MCX carbines for each AFO. Weapons are stored in a weapons locker in the rear of the ARV.
Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers
Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer (CT-SFO) teams deal with MPS operations and also national firearms operations as part of the CTSFO Network. They provide firearms support to borough and specialist units. They are multi-skilled and can deliver all elements of armed policing, including operations to combat major crime, hostage taking and terrorism.
SCO19 has seven CT-SFO teams consisting of one sergeant and 15 constables, including females, with six CT-SFO Inspectors and an Operational Senior Manager with a reported strength of 130 officers. An operational CT-SFO team works a 7-week shift-pattern which includes night duty. CT-SFO teams are able to be deployed by air or the river, using armoured vehicles and motorcycles if needed. On 28 July 2014, the single Armed Response Vehicle service was launched.
In preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London in July 2012, officers were trained to a higher standard than SFO, known as Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer (CT-SFO). This included the use of live rounds during close quarters combat (CQC) training and fast-roping from helicopters, to be able to respond more effectively to terrorist incidents. The training was conducted jointly with United Kingdom Special Forces.
On 30 June 2015, CT-SFO teams participated in Operation Strong Tower held in London, the largest counter-terrorism exercise conducted in the United Kingdom. The MPS released statistics that between January 2015 and December 2015 CT-SFO teams were involved in 144 operations.
On 3 August 2016, the MPS held a press conference for the announcement of Operation Hercules, displaying the CT-SFO teams to the public wearing wolf-grey-coloured tactical uniforms, equipped with SIG Sauer SIG516 and SIG MCX carbines, Glock 17 handguns, Remington 870 shotgun, Accuracy International AT308 sniper rifle, and paraded the BMW F800GS motorcycles used for deployments in central London.
On 19 March 2017, CT-SFO teams participated in maritime Exercise Anchor on the River Thames, their first joint major live-play exercise. On 22 March 2017, CT-SFO teams rapidly deployed to the 2017 Westminster attack, which was reported to be their first significant marauding terrorist attack deployment since their formation.
CT-SFO teams use the Jankel Guardian armoured vehicle based on a Ford F-450 chassis. The CT-SFO training facilities at the MPS Specialist Training Centre includes indoor and outdoor live-fire shooting ranges, an assault house for practising method of entry (MOE) techniques and train, subway and aircraft mock-ups.
CTSFOs volunteers are recruited from serving ARV officers. A candidate has to be recommended by their supervisor, undertake a two day assessment and pass both shooting and physical standards. If candidates pass this stage they will then be offered a place on a CTSFO course where they will begin to up-skill to their new role.
As of April 2019, the following firearms are in use by the Specialist Firearms Command:
Officers are also equipped with the non-lethal Taser X26s and X2s. All officers also have the same basic equipment any other officer would have: ASP Baton, CS Gas, Speedcuffs, and radios. SCO19 officers are equipped with bulletproof vests, instead of the standard stabproof vest which does have low level ballistic capability.
- Police use of firearms in the United Kingdom
- Firearms unit
- Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer
- Specialist firearms officer
- Authorised firearms officer
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The Unit is still known as SCO19 Specialist Firearms Command.
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