Extra Armed Police On London's Streets Could Face Substantial Delays

The 'best case scenario' would be 24 months.

03/08/2016 09:25 | Updated 03 August 2016

A promise by the Metropolitan police chief and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to boost armed police numbers on London streets by several hundred could face substantial delays, according to a police group. 

The Met has announced it will increase the number of armed officers by 600, bringing the total to 2,800. The officers would be stationed around well-known landmarks to deter would-be attackers. 

The move is in response to recent terrorist attacks across Europe like the Nice attack which saw 84 people killed after Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day.

Frank Augstein/AP
Armed police officers stand guard at the Houses of Parliament in London.

But counter-terrorism teams could be waiting for up to two years before the extra firearms officers promised to combat an attack are operational, a police group has warned.

Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales Steve White said the “best case scenario” would be 24 months to get the additional marksmen in place.

Some forces are also struggling to get the right quality of volunteers to go through the rigorous selection and training process, reports the Press Association.

White said: “Some forces are getting volunteers coming forward, but they are not always being selected because they don’t meet the criteria. It is vitally important that standards are maintained. The best case scenario is two years in terms of recruiting an extra 1,500 officers.

“If there is an attack it is unlikely to be an isolated incident. We’ve got to have the resources around the country because it might happen in multiple places at the same time.”

Home Office figures for the year to March 2016 showed that the number of armed officers dropped by eight, but police chiefs have insisted that forces are on track to get the extra marksmen in place over the next 18 months.

Plans to boost the number of armed police were put in place in the wake of the terrorist attack on Paris in November last year, when 130 people were killed.

White also expressed concern about cuts to neighbourhood police teams.

On Sunday, Britain’s most senior police officer Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe hailed neighbourhood policing as “our major weapon” in the fight against terrorism. But squeezed budgets have forced some chief officers to cut the coverage.

The Federation chief said: “Chief constables are having to make very difficult decisions in terms of managing their budgets and managing the competing priorities that they have.

“With counter-terrorism there is the top-sliced money and the extra money for firearms officers, but that is once we’re having an attack.

“Of course we need them, but we must make sure that we have the relationships built up between local communities and the police service, so that people can ring the police or speak to their bobby on the street and have the confidence to raise things with them.

“If you don’t have police officers having that daily contact in these communities you’re never going to build these relationships.

“Over the last few years in some force areas they have had to take resources out of neighbourhood policing just to keep the wheels on in terms of reacting to incidents.

“You can’t fix this overnight. The resources that have been taken out over the last couple of years is stark.”

Experts have said that police in France, which has been hit by a spate of terrorist atrocities, have struggled to contain the threat, partly because of their lack of community relationships.

On Monday, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley praised members of the public for contributing to efforts to counter extremism and terrorism.

This included an average of 32 calls a day to the confidential anti-terrorist hotline to pass on information about suspicious activity as well as referrals about potential radicalisation or extremist material on the internet.

The authorities are drawing around 60 or 70 people away from extremism every month, Rowley said, and around one in six of those referrals come from the public.

Matt Cardy via Getty Images
Royal Navy patrol boats are seen in Cardiff docks.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Border Force has a “worryingly low” number of boats for patrolling the coast - despite being given a key role in heightened security arrangements, a Commons committee has warned.

MPs highlighted differences between the UK’s fleet and the capacity other European nations can call on -  and said Royal Navy vessels should be made available to plug any gaps.

They also called for security to be stepped up at smaller ports amid fears they are being targeted by criminal gangs.

Controversy erupted earlier this year when it emerged that just three Border Force cutter vessels were being used to patrol the UK’s 7,000 miles of coastal borders.

The issue fell under the spotlight after 18 Albanians were rescued from a sinking inflatable boat off the Kent coast.

In May ministers announced measures to bolster maritime security, including new patrol boats for Border Force to supplement the existing five-vessel fleet. While the first batch were to be in place within months, full deployment is not expected until the end of next year.

By contrast, reports suggest Italy has as many as 600 boats for 4,700 miles of coast.

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