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A Guide to the Firearms Unit And Armed Police

For the vast majority of us, when we think of Armed Response Police officers, we think of Cop movies from Hollywood. This, however, is incorrect on a massive scale because the way that the Authorised firearm Officers (AFO) are utilised is very different to breaking down doors and walking around town with a firearm strapped into a Police Officer’s pocket. 

Here in the UK, our Police Officers handle crimes involving firearms a lot differently and are very much held to account for their actions, meaning that using firearms is a last resort. 

The Armed Police

An Armed Response Police officer is part of a team that works diligently to tackle any crimes committed that involve weapons. They are trained to do so and are accredited as authorised firearm officers (AFO). These officers risk assess situations and use their skills to react appropriately and proportionally to the situation. Armed Response Officers use their skills to gain intelligence on certain firearms-related crimes and then formulate a plan to stop them from occurring. 

The Role of an Armed Police Officer

The role of an Armed Response Officer or Authorised Firearms Officer is one of massive responsibility. Before becoming an AFO, officers undergo a rigorous process where they need to show high knowledge of the law, their appropriate and proportionate use of force, and communication skills. 

The reason for the Armed Police Officers is to protect our country against terrorism and threats of serious violence towards the public. However, most of the UK’s Police force is unarmed, which is something to be proud of as this is unheard of around the world. 

If an AFO needs to use their firearm, an investigation will take place to dissect the conduct of every officer that was present at the crime scene. This creates a culture of accountability amongst officers. 

How to Become an Armed Police Officer  

  • You must be at least 18 years of age
  • Hold a full UK license
  • Completion of the probationary period in the police – Generally 2 years.
  • Be accepted for firearms training
  • Pass a medical assessment
  • Pass the armed police fitness test
Armed Police officers raiding house

The Units of armed officers Police  

AFO – Authorised Firearms Officer

An Authorised Firearms Officer is someone who has been trained in the use of firearms, or who have been given permission to carry them whilst on duty. Their level of training, however, fully depends on the type of role that they take on. 

The deployment of an AFO can only take place after meeting certain criteria. Such criteria entail situations where the officer authorising the deployment has reason to believe that police officers may have to protect others or themselves from people who are in possession of, or have immediate access to firearms or lethal weapons or where the deployment of armed police is seen to be appropriate due to the suspect being a particular type of dangerous. This unit is also deployed when there are animals loose who are highly dangerous, or who are suffering. 

The type of roles that AFOs could take on are Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) officers, Specialist Firearms Officer (SFO), Close Protection Officer (CPO), Personal Protection Officer, and Tactical Support Officer. 

SFO – Specialist Firearms Officer

A Specialised Firearms Officer (SFO) is the type of police officer that, if you see them out on the street, you know that something extremely serious is going on. These are the police officers that every five-year-old boy strives to be like when they are older. They are the SAS of our streets-our real-life heroes. 

SFOs carry out pre-planned and intelligence-led operations that have been authorised to execute against criminals who are thought to have access to firearms. Their training includes dynamic entry, the use of stun grenades, and tear gas. The SFOs’ level of training is higher than that of the AFOs’, and a SFO usually serves as an AFO for several years before being able to work their way up to a SFO.

CTSFO – Counter-Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officer

Some police forces have a team known as Counter-Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers who are trained for counter-terrorism operations. 

ARV – Armed Response Vehicle

Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) Officers are trained to respond to spontaneous firearms incidents. An Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO) will most likely always have a self-loading pistol on them and will also have access to ‘long arms’ which would be safely kept in the vehicle. The training for the ARV, AFOs consists of advanced driving, performing a ‘stop and search’ of suspect vehicles, and in the containment of a vehicle or building. 

Armed Police Guns 

Police Pistols

  • Glock 17- 9mm pistol
  • Heckler and Koch (H&K) MP5SF – 9mm
  • H&K G36C – 5.56mm
  • Sig Sauer P250 – 9mm pistol 
  • Walther P99.
  • Sig Sauer P226 – 9mm 
  • M&P40 – pistol in .40S&W used by 
  • Sig Pro 250 – 9mm.

Police Carbines

  • H&K MP5SF– 9mm carbine, single-fire version. 
  • H&K G36C – 5.56mm semi-automatic carbine. 
  • H&K G36K – big brother of the G36C. 
  • Sig 552 Commando – short-barrelled 5.56mm carbine 
  • LMT Defender – AR-15 clone 
  • H&K HK53 – 5.56mm semi-auto carbine 
  • H&K HK416C 
  • Sig SG516 – 5.56mm carbine 

Police Sniper / Marksman Rifles

  • Tikka T3 Rifle Bolt Action Rifle 
  • H&K 417 – semi-automatic 7.62mm x 51mm rifle
  • Blaser 93 – German-made bolt-action rifle 

Police Shotguns 

  • Remington 870 – 12-gauge pump action
  • Benelli M1– semi-auto 12-gauge
  • Benelli Nova/Super Nova 

Less-than-Lethal Police Weapons

  • H&K L104A12 37mm launcher – a ‘riot gun’ that fires a ‘plastic bullet’. Fitted with L18A1/2 sight.
  • X25 Taser – fires high voltage wires attached to darts in order to incapacitate the suspects.

This information serves as a guide for Armed Response Police and is only a glimpse into the world of our Police force. 

FAQ

How Much Do Armed Police Get Paid?

Armed police officers get the same pay as Police Officers. This starts at £21,402 to £41,130 for a constable.

How Long is Training to Become an Armed Response Officer?

Initial firearms training is around 5 weeks long.

Why Do Armed Police Cover Their Faces?

Armed police officers cover their face due to the risk of retaliation and identification. Sometimes Firearms police deal with serious criminals and need their identities hidden.

What does AFO mean in the Police?

AFO stands for Authorised Firearms Officer

Read our other department guides

CID
Police Dogs Unit
Traffic officers

Tom Brook

Tom Brook

I am a former Police Detective with years of knowledge and experience in investigating serious crimes across Scotland, working with communities and keeping the public safe. I aim to give back to the Policing community with this site!
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