Armed police on patrol in Christmas crack-down

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The Independent Online
Christmas shoppers in some of England's largest cities this weekend have been confronted by the sight of police officers openly carrying semi- automatic weapons after two of the country's largest forces launched high profile crack-downs against organised crime and the threat of terrorist attack.

Over the past two days city centres in Liverpool, Birmingham and Coventry have all been patrolled by officers armed with rapid fire guns. Merseyside police said the situation would stay that way "for the foreseeable future" while the West Midlands force said it would review the policy after Christmas Eve.

Merseyside is using armed foot-patrol officers for the first time. Inspector Steve Stansfield said the deployment was "in response to two issues: criminal elements and the heightened threat of terrorist attack". He would not say how many officers were armed, only that the number was "in single figures".

Police patrols at airports already carry semi-automatic weapons and most forces use armed response vehicles. Officers involved in Royal and diplomatic protection also use semi-automatic weapons.