Sharp rise in police firearms operations

SIGHTINGS of BB guns or replica weapons is thought to be behind big rise in police operations involving firearms.

Danielle Nuttall

THE number of police operations in Suffolk in which firearms were authorised has soared by almost 60% in five years, it has emerged.

Sightings of BB guns or replica weapons are thought to be one of the main causes of the rise, which is revealed in latest Home Office figures.

Last year, 256 police operations in Suffolk involved authorisations of firearms - more than in Norfolk, Essex or Cambridgeshire - up from 163 in 2001-2. But the number of licensed firearms officers in the county has fallen.

Meanwhile, the number of operations in Suffolk involving the deployment of an armed response vehicle (ARV) has risen by 79% in six years, from 116 in 2001-2 to 204 in 2006-7.

Suffolk Constabulary said last night the figures fluctuated significantly year-on-year and said it was difficult to explain the peaks and troughs.

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However, the force admitted sightings of replica guns or BB guns accounted for a number of firearms deployments.

A spokeswoman for the force said: “The figures year-on-year, both for the number of operations involving ARVs and the number in which firearms were authorised, fluctuate greatly; for example in 2003-4 there were 251 operations in which firearms were authorised compared to almost 100 less in 2004-5 with 153 operations.

“It is not easy to explain why there would be an increase or decrease in the use of firearms authorities or the attendance of ARVs as it would depend on the number of planned operations and also immediate incidents that the officers would need to be deployed to.

“Sightings of replica guns and BB guns in Suffolk certainly account for a number firearms authorities and deployments of ARVs.

“BB Guns and replica guns often look identical to real weapons, and therefore the response from the police must be to deploy armed police officers.”

BB guns can be defined as an imitation firearm and as a consequence if they are carried in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse an offence is committed.

Those people who do carry such a weapon in a public place run the risk of being arrested and prosecuted. The penalty could be six months imprisonment and/or a fine.

The figures also show the number of authorised firearms officers in Suffolk has fallen from 90 in 2001-2 to 78 in 2006-7.

Nationally, the number of police operations in which firearms were authorised rose from 13,991 in 2001-2 to 18,053 in 2006-7.

However, last year's figure was lower than 2005-6 when 18,891 operations involved the authorisation of firearms.

Armed response vehicles were deployed on 14,530 occasions and there were a total of 6,728 authorised firearms officers in the country last year.

Police in England and Wales discharged a conventional firearm in only three incidents during 2006-7.

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