In my previous Blog post I briefly mentioned that I booked out a firearm before going out on patrol and so I thought I'd better clarify that for any non British residents who might read this old blarney. Carrying a firearm on patrol was not common practice in the Met Police but it certainly was the case in a couple of central London stations where there were high numbers of Government, Royalty and diplomatic missions and consular offices on the patch. In these `nicks` the sight of an officer sat in the canteen, playing cards during a meal break with a revolver or pistol on his belt was a pretty common sight, but as I also said, no body armour. We had great faith in those issue blue cotton shirts with separate collars and collar studs.
That said, an armed Met policeman on patrol was nothing new. In fact, right up until the start of WW2, Regulations allowed any Met police officer, `suitably experienced`, to draw a revolver if they wished, but for some strange reason only on night duty. The long held belief that British police are unique in being `unarmed` has always been ever so slightly at odds with the real history of British policing although for the vast majority of officers, it was truncheons and whistles only – these days it’s still the vast majority (over 99%) who patrol with just a baton, CS spray and stab resistant vest. If they come up with a different uniform then they might find room to hang a Taser on them too, somewhere.
My first station in the Metropolis always had the highest concentration of armed policemen deployed in Britain and it followed that as long as I remained on that particular division, I would eventually become one of them although it has never been part of the job spec’ of a British police officer to carry a firearm and it still isn’t. Firearms trained officers are all volunteers. It would be a most interesting situation if they all decided, en masse, to choose not to do so any more. However, in my first few years, if and when you were earmarked for what used to be called the “Defensive Weapons Course” you always had the option to decline it.
Courses were run at Old Street police station, a place that even today is still very much associated with the Met’s firearms unit, CO19. By current standards the course was incredibly short, a mere 5 days duration, and focussed almost totally on pure marksmanship and weapon drills. If there was any training in tactical planning and deployment I certainly don’t remember it although we did do some sessions on building searches for armed suspects that were quite exciting and the closest we came to confronting a realistic threat, rather than just a paper target. That first course was quite memorable and at times quite amusing. I feel another story coming on.....
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was taking the first steps into what would be many years of armed policing and the scope and intensity of the training I would receive over the following 25 years was beyond the imagination of most senior officers of that generation. For me and my mates on the front line, the need for the Met to seriously professionalise its approach to firearms operations was already evident and a subject that was often discussed after live incidents, which were many and varied. Perhaps I should reveal more.