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How often do our police use their guns?

Official police firearm statistics 2019/20

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5 incidents in last year

Last week (6 August 2020), the Home Office published its annual “Police use of firearms” statistics, covering the 2019/20 financial year.

Unlike many government statistics at the moment, this set makes for a reassuring read. Although there were 19,372 police firearms operations last year, there were just five incidents in which police firearms were intentionally discharged at people.

Here are some of the main facts and figures:

A small fall in the number of firearms operations

There were 19,372 police firearms operations in the financial year ending March 2020, a 4% decrease (-820) in the latest year, ending the yearly increase seen since the year ending March 2016.

London & West Midlands have the most operations

In the year ending March 2020, the London region had the largest proportion of all police firearms operations accounting for around 1-in-5 (22%; 4,280) of the total operations. The West Midlands region had the second highest number of police firearms operations, with this region accounting for 17% (3,370) of the total. These two regions also accounted for the highest number of operations in the year ending March 2019.

The London region showed a continuing decrease of operations falling 9% (down 408) while the West Midlands region experienced the largest numerical decrease of all regions, with 863 fewer firearms operations (down 20%) in the year ending March 2020 than in the previous year.

In terms of the number of operations per 100,000 citizens, West Midlands Police have the largest number of operations.

5 incidents where police shot at people

These figures refer to incidents in which police firearms were intentionally discharged at person(s). The number of incidents does not reflect the number of firearms that were fired, or the number of shots fired. The use of firearms by police is expected to be a last resort, considered only where there is a serious risk to public or police safety. In the year ending March 2020, there were 5 incidents in which police discharged firearms. This is the lowest number of incidents since year ending March 2014. The highest number of these incidents in the last decade (2018/19) was 13.

Number of armed officers

In the year ending March 2020, there were 6,518 armed police officers, a 2% decrease (-103) compared with the previous year. This is the first year in which the number of armed officers has decreased , following a year on year increase lasting three years. The previous increase in armed officers is likely to be linked to the armed uplift programme. On 1 April 2016, the Home Office announced provision of funding for a five-year uplift programme to increase policing capability and capacity in the use of firearms.

Approximately 5% of all police officers are authorised to use of firearms.

Conclusion

For all the problems in our criminal justice system, it seems to me that we can take genuine pride in continuing to have a modern police service which relies so little on the use of guns.

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Infographics
London’s gun crime

Hidden in the text of the article is the rather less sensational and more welcome finding that gun crime has been falling rapidly with only 127 shots fired in the first half of 2014 with just one related death. What is perhaps most startling is the way that the police have reduced shootings without entering into a gun battle with criminals.

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