Scotland Yard is considering the deployment of armed foot patrols in London’s most notorious crime hotspots to curb gang violence.
Met Police could put armed squads on foot patrol to tackle gangs
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick today said that armed officers could take a “short foot patrol” in “extreme circumstances” in response to serious outbreaks of violence.
She told members of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee that armed officers were already getting out of their vehicles to support unarmed colleagues at violent incidents. In some cases, they would “walk around”, she said.
The patrols would be undertaken by officers from armed response vehicles which routinely patrol London, and provide support to neighbourhood police and specialist teams. Ms Dick said she and colleagues were aware of the sensitivities over alterations to the role of armed police but insisted this would be a “small change”.
Cressida Dick pictured at Scotland Yard (Lucy Young)
She said this would not involve routine armed patrols, adding: “We are not doing this by stealth. It would only be done in unusual circumstances.”
However, Labour member Len Duvall said that while people were used to armed officers protecting iconic sites, patrols on ordinary streets would amount to a change in tactics. He questioned why there had only been limited consultation, saying his concern was this would “sneak out and become the norm”.
Ms Dick said a limited consultation had started with two groups in London. An email to one, seen by the Standard, states: “There has been recent internal discussion around using additional armed support to patrol on foot amongst local communities, with their weapons visible and accessible.
“The purpose of any such initiative must be to enhance public and unarmed officer safety, and to improve not hinder community confidence.”
The email says the “ARV (armed response vehicle) pulse patrol” is a tactical option available to police but states it is “not routinely utilised due to the potential for adverse community impact if not carefully managed”.
Armed foot patrols were deployed in London in 2009 after a surge in gun crime. However, Scotland Yard was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after it provoked an angry reaction from local communities and the force’s governing authority because they had not been consulted in advance.
There were fears the deployment would be a step towards a routinely-armed force with the then mayor Boris Johnson saying armed police should be “the exception, not the norm”.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Commissioner at the time, admitted that armed officers had been deployed on foot eight times in support of neighbourhood officers in a pilot project in Haringey and Lambeth. The force abandoned the scheme.
At present armed officers are deployed in support of the Violent Crime Taskforce but they are mobile teams. A Met spokesman said today: “As part of the Met’s ongoing commitment to tackle serious violence, our tactics remain under constant review. Currently officers across the boroughs and Violent Crime Taskforce are supported by colleagues from specialist units such as the Territorial Support Group and the Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19). One tactical option available within SCO19 would be to deploy armed foot patrols.
“The Met recognises the significant change in tasking officers in this way and the impact it may have on our communities. As such an email was sent to our independent community group, the Firearms and Taser Reference Group, for their initial views on how they believe their community may perceive such patrols. No decision has been made.”