Armed police are now carrying out routine patrols on the streets of Tyneside as the number of officers carrying guns reaches the highest level in 10 years.

There was total of 261 armed officers working across the North East last year, with one in every 21 officers carrying a gun.

But this does not mean there are more police overall as officer numbers in the regions three police forces remain at their lowest in recent years.

For this reason the days when armed police were only seen during a major incident or stand-off are over.

And we are now more likely to see gun-carrying cops on patrol in our shopping centres, train stations and other busy places.

Northumbria Police is the North East force to have the biggest increase in armed police after receiving additional funding from the Home Office after the Paris terror attacks of 2015.

The force now as 151 armed officers, whereas in 2009 it had just 95.

Today the officer in charge of Northumbria's armed police explained why the force needs additional firearms, and what the officers do on a daily basis.

And Chief Insp Louise Galliott-Thornton, of the force's Firearms Support Unit(FSU), said the public should not be scared when they see a police officer with a gun.

She explained: "In 2016 the Home Office announced funding for a number of UK police forces to increase their firearms capability in light of terror attacks across the continent.

Inspector Louise Galliott-Thornton of the firearms support unit at Northumbria Police
Chief Louise Galliott-Thornton of Northumbria Police's firearms support unit

“We were one of those forces who were provided with additional funding and so the number of armed officers we have has steadily increased in recent years.

"If anyone has concerns about the police activity then we would always encourage you to approach officers and have a chat to them about their role."

Armed officers in the Northumbria Police area are now routinely on duty at major sports fixtures and other events.

However, they can also be seen on patrol in other busy areas on a daily basis.

“Our region is proud to play host to a number of large events including the Sunderland Air Show, the Great North Run and most recently the rugby finals in Newcastle," said Chief Insp Galliott-Thornton.

“We have had a firearms presence at all of those events and they have been really well received by the public who have told us they are a reassuring presence.

“Officers have also been on patrol at high footfall areas and at major transport hubs but this is not specific to our region and these kind of patrols have been taking place across the country since the uplift."

 

However, firearms officers continue to be be used for gun-related operations.

Just this week they were seen on a number of occasions around Newcastle as cops swooped to make arrests after a man was threatened with a gun at his home in Cowgate.

Northumbria Police officers during a training session at the Firearms support unit in Gateshead
Northumbria Police officers during a training session at the Firearms Support Unit in Gateshead

So far 13 people have been arrested in connection with the investigation and a firearm has been seized.

Latest Home Office figures reveal there were 261 armed officers working across Durham Constabulary, Northumbria Police and Cleveland Police as of March 2018.

That was up from 247 the previous year and is the highest number recorded since modern records began in 2009.

The Government pledged to increase the number of firearms-trained officers across England and Wales by 1,500 in response to the Bataclan terror attack in France that killed 130 people.

 

But the rise comes at a time when budget cuts mean there are fewer officers overall.

There were 5,572 officers working in the North East as of March 2018, that is 1,845 fewer than the 7,417 employed in 2010 - the year the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government came into power.

The situation in our region mirrors a national trend. Some 125,285 police officers were employed across England and Wales as of March 2018 - 21,139 fewer than the 146,424 employed in 2010.

At the same time there were 6,459 armed officers employed across the police - a rate of one in every 19 and a record high.

Across all forces, Norfolk had the highest rate of armed officers, one in every 10.

Just one in 39 officers in Cheshire police, meanwhile, was also armed.

Despite the overall rise in firearms-trained officers, forces are actually missing out on recruitment targets.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said that, as of May last year, the Government had increased its firearms officers by 1,351 since 2016.

But according to the Police Federation, just 874 had been recruited after non Home-Officers forces such as the British Transport Police were accounted for.

Armed Police at the entrance of Newcastle Racecourse for the Northumberland Plate 2018

At the time Ché Donald, vice-chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "We don’t doubt that there has been investment and an increase, but Chiefs have employed smoke and mirrors by including the figures for non-Home Office forces claiming the uplift is 1,351.

"In real terms for the public it is less than 1,000 – but either way each set of figures still falls short of the target they set two years ago.

"It does seem as if they are trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes and is rather disingenuous.

 

"We need to continue to boost the number of trained firearm officers still further and ensure the operating conditions are conducive to the retention of good officers.

“You have to ask why officers seem to be reluctant to fill these roles; but when you consider that when officers discharge their firearms they often face investigations extending beyond 12 months, reducing their ability to be operational, that might may provide some insight.

"So there is an issue with attracting people in the first place, and then retention with trained officers questioning whether it’s worth staying in the job as a result."

Armed police carrying out an operation on Wingrove Avenue in Fenham

And Chief Cons Simon Chesterman, lead for armed policing at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said today: “In the three years since the Home Office announced a £143m programme to increase policing’s firearms capability, Home Office forces have increased their total number of firearms officers by around 1,100.

"As a result, the number of Armed Response Vehicles (ARV) available to protect the public in England and Wales has increased by more than 25 per cent.

"In any given 24-hour period there are approximately 55 more ARVs patrolling England and Wales than in April 2016, meaning forces are able to respond to major incidents such as terrorist attacks faster and with greater numbers.

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"This increase is bolstered by a 70 per cent increase in the number of the highest-trained Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers (CTSFO), who are taken from the ARV ranks and given additional training.

"Police chiefs are committed to our model of policing with a routinely unarmed service at its core.

"At the same time, we need to be sure we have the right level of armed policing to meet threats to the public.

"The overwhelming majority of England and Wales has very good coverage from armed response vehicles.

Police on patrol in Jesmond
Police on patrol in Jesmond


"Forces are now better equipped than ever to respond swiftly to serious threats to public safety, such as terror attacks.

"The increase in the number of highly-trained CTSFOs means that we can move more quickly to resolve major incidents and be more proactive when confronting a threat.

“However, armed policing remains a voluntary role and the recruitment, training and retention of officers remains a challenge for all forces.

"How we treat firearms officers in the rare instance that they discharge their weapon does influence the willingness of people to take up this role, and they naturally have concerns about the impact it can have on the welfare of themselves and their families.

"It is absolutely right that we scrutinise the decision-making in those rare instances, and the speed in which the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) currently investigates our response to terrorist incidents is greatly appreciated, but we want to work with them to reduce delays and deliver quicker investigations for all other instances in which our officers have discharged their weapons."

Read More

Today's other news stories

A rise in firearms officers has been accompanied by an increase in the number of discharges.

Separate figures show that across England and Wales, police discharged firearms on 12 occasions in 2017/18 - a record high.

That was up from 10 the previous year and is the highest number that modern records show.

The figures do not reveal which forces discharged their firearms.

All police who discharge a firearm are subjected to an investigation.