Specialist Firearms Command
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|Specialist Firearms Command (SC&O19)|
|Branch||Specialist Crime & Operations|
|Role||Domestic counter-terrorism and law enforcement|
|Nickname(s)||SO19, CO19, blue berets|
|Colours||Blue and black|
Specialist Firearms Command (SC&O19) (previously known as SO19 and now CO19) is a part of the Specialist Crime & Operations Directorate within London's 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As time progressed, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, being superseded by early revolvers.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In the 1860s, the flintlock pistols that had been purchased in 1829 were decommissioned from service, being superseded by 622 Beaumont–Adams revolvers firing the .450 cartridge, which were loaned from the army stores at the Tower of London following the Clerkenwell bombing.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 automatic pistol.
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. 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, 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 perceived, owing to the creation of level 2 officers. The role of a level 2 officer was to deploy to 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 Specialist Firearms Officer, which continued to have much of the same role responding to planned firearms operation, kidnappings, 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. 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 planned and spontaneous firearms operations.
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As of 2007, the Command is responsible for training the MPS's 2,594 AFOs. These include officers from Protection Command, Counter Terrorism Command, Diplomatic Protection Group, the Aviation Security Operational Command Unit, the Flying Squad (SCD7(5), Specialist and Royalty Protection Command and the armed officers from CO19 itself.
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 two weeks of intensive training on the Glock 17 Pistol, and the Heckler & Koch carbine. 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. 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, 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 Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Centre (MPSTC), CO19 provides initial and continuation training for all firearms officers within the MPS. There are more than twenty courses 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.
Operational firearms support
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 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 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 more support if needed. 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.
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 8 minutes.
All Metropolitan Police Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs) have the callsign 'Trojan'.
Currently, SCO19 use BMW X5's as their Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs). Before these, BMW 5 series were used; however, these are becoming hard to find, as most are now phased out or very few are being used as Area Cars. BMW X5s are the main ARVs for the Met and many other counties in the UK.
Every officer carries a personal issue Glock 17 self loading pistol and a TASER model X26. On each ARV there are also two MP5 carbines and two G36 rifles.
Tactical support teams
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
The SCO19 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. Ireland's Garda ERU trains annually with SCO19 through the ATLAS Network. The SFO teams undertook 407 deployments in the 2006/07 financial year.
The SFO standard has been replaced by the new higher trained CT-SFO standard. In 2014, the MPS removed SFO from the SC&O19 Operational Capability information on their website replaced with CTSFO.
Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer
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.
SC&O19 has 7 CT-SFO teams consisting of 1 sergeant and 15 constables, including females, with 6 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, on 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), including 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. Conducted training reportedly with the United Kingdom Special Forces.
On 30 June 2015, CT-SFO teams participated in Operation Strong Tower held in London, the largest counter-terrorism exercise ever conducted in the United Kingdom. The MPS released statistics that between January 2015 to 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 colour tactical uniforms, equipped with SIG Sauer SIG516 and SIG MCX carbines, Glock 17 handguns, Remington 870 shotgun, Accuracy International AT308 sniper rile, and paraded the BMW F800GS motorcycles used for deployments in central London.
On 19 March 2017, CTSFO teams participated in maritime Exercise Anchor on the River Thames their first joint major live-play exercise. On 22 March 2017, CTSFO 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.
Equipment and firearms
Currently, CO19 use Heckler and Koch MP5s and SIG Sauer SIG516s as their main firearm. Glock 17's are used as a sidearm. Officers are also equipped with the non-lethal X26 Taser. All officers also have the same basic equipment any other officer would have: ASP Baton, CS Gas, Speedcuffs, and a radio. CO19 officers are equipped with bulletproof vests, instead of the standard stabproof vest.
- Police use of firearms in the United Kingdom
- Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer
- Specialist Firearms Officer
- Authorised Firearms Officer
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