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Police use of firearms statistics

Each year, the Home Office published police use of firearms statistics for England and Wales. This year’s publication on 27 July 2017, relates to the period from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017.

The headline figures show that, in the year to March 2017:

  • there were 15,705 police firearms operations;
  • 84% of those operations involved Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs);
  • there were 10 incidents in which police discharged firearms;
  • London accounted for the largest proportion (27%) of all police firearms operations; the North East accounted for the smallest proportion (3%);
  • there were 6,278 Authorised Firearms Officer (AFOs), representing 5% of the total number of 125,851 police officers – the highest proportion in last 9 years.

Only data from the year ending March 2009 onwards has gone through the same quality assurance process, so there are nine years’ worth of data to compare. The statistics show:

  • a consistent downward trend since March 2009 in the overall number of firearms operations – although in the year to March 2017, there was an increase of 1,056 (7%) firearms operations on the previous year;
  • in each year from 2009 onwards, at least 80% (and between 80% and 85%) of firearms operations have involved ARVs. In the year to March 2017 that proportion was 84%.

For incidents in which firearms were actually discharged, the small sample size means that historical comparisons have limited value, but it is interesting to note that:

  • the number of incidents in which police firearms have been discharged has consistently been small, averaging 4.5 over the 9 year period from the year ending March 2009 with a range of 3 (in the year to March 2013) to 10 (in the year to March 2017);
  • the proportion of firearms operations in which firearms are discharged is not published by the Home Office published, but by my calculation, the average over the 9 year period from the year ending March 2009 is 0.03% with a range of 0.02% (in the years to March 2011, 2012 and 2013) to 0.06% in the year ending March 2016.

The Home Office data does not reveal whether the outcome of incidents in which police firearms were discharged was fatal. The IPCC does, however, publish this information since all police fatal shootings are independently investigated by the Commission. The IPCC’s figures show that 6 out of the 10 incidents in which the police discharged firearms between 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 resulted in fatality, one of which (the Palace of Westminster attack on 22 March 2017) was terrorism related.

The new figures led National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Armed Policing, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman to comment: “The number of shots fired on operations has increased from seven to ten but they are still a tiny proportion of the overall number of operations where officers tackle the situation without using their firearm. This bears testament to the professionalism and restraint of our armed officers.”

Different policing styles, including whether officers are routinely armed, make international comparisons difficult. In 2016, 963 people were fatally shot by the police in the USA – a figure collated by the Washington Post because police forces are not obliged to provide data on police fatal shootings, meaning that official FBI figures are incomplete. In January, the Independent used this data and figures from the Home Office and the charity Inquest to estimate that the rate of fatal police shootings is 64 times higher in the USA than in the UK.

The Home Office also publishes data on TASER use, and did so most recently on 13 April 2017. These figures showed that from 1 January to 31 December 2016 TASER was “used” by police 11,294 times in England and Wales. Of these uses, only 1,910 (17%) were discharges. 51% of the remaining 83% “non-discharge” uses were use of the “red dot” function.