Armed police may be deployed to patrol areas of London where 'gang activity is likely' to combat violence

Scotland Yard says it is not considering routine patrols and move would only be taken in 'extreme circumstances' 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 30 November 2018 13:27
Met release video montage showing police driver tactics used to tackle moped and motorcycle crimes

Armed police may be deployed to patrol areas of London where “gang activity is likely” following a rise in violent crime in the capital.

Scotland Yard stressed that it was not considering routine patrols by officers carrying guns and said discussions were at an early stage.

A memo from the force said the it would be a “temporary measure for short periods of time”, and used “based on an informed and reliable intelligence picture of where gang activity is likely”.

Commissioner Cressida Dick said she was aware of the controversy the proposals could cause.

But appearing before the London Assembly police and crime committee, she argued they were only a “half a step on” from what officers carrying guns already do.

Ms Dick, who is Britain’s most senior police officer, said armed response vehicles were already responding to stabbings and shootings in London and supporting some stop-and-search operations.

“The possible proposal here is half a step on from that, which is that if something truly ghastly has just happened or is about to happen, those officers who at the moment would stand next to their vehicles, might take a very short foot patrol,” she told the committee.

“This is a small change potentially in tactic in extreme circumstances.”

Ms Dick said the idea is about trying to get “even more effect” out of armed officers who already patrol London’s streets.

“Rather than just driving around. What else can they do to help?” she asked.

The commissioner said any change would be an operational decision reserved for Scotland Yard, but added: “I fully understand that the public and politicians quite rightly have an interest in how we use armed officers … we want to see how people feel.”

Tottenham MP David Lammy criticised the proposal as “an attempt to put out fire with fire”.

“The Met’s plans are an attempt to put out fire with fire,” he said. “Officers patrolling with weapons will only increase fear and distrust of the police in those communities on the front line of gang violence. This risks turning our streets into armed battlegrounds.

“The way to tackle violent crime is by going after the international gangsters fuelling it. Instead of going after the key drivers of crime, this measure mistakenly focuses on the kids on the street who are being used as foot soldiers.”

Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey, who has advised London mayor Sadiq Khan, was not convinced the move would be helpful.

“It would be seen as provocative. It will inspire fear rather than reassurance. It will hinder community confidence and do little in itself to reduce the number of violent incidents,” he told the House of Lords.

“It would be more positive to maintain or even enhance schools liaison and engagement work.”

Mr Khan warned that armed officers on the streets “cannot become the norm”, following a rise in visibility in the wake of a wave of terror attacks in London and Manchester last year.

“The mayor is crystal clear that armed officers on London’s streets must be the exception and cannot become the norm. He would expect full consultation on any decisions of this nature,” a spokesperson said.

Assistant commissioner Sir Steve House said the proposals were first discussed late last week and “nothing has changed” sincethen.

He said armed patrols were “one of a number of tactics” considered to reduce street violence, following more than 120 killings in London so far this year.

Ms Dick said “a very high proportion” of killings involved either suspects or victims who were involved in gangs or on their fringes.

The government’s first-ever serious violence strategy named county lines drug dealing, where gangs expand aggressively from cities into rural areas, and “incitement” between rival groups on social media as key factors in a nationwide increase in stabbings and knife possession.

Knife crime is at a record level in England and Wales, with more than 39,000 offences recorded by police in the year to June, and children as young as nine have been found carrying knives.

The home secretary has backed a “public health approach” to tackling the root causes of violence, but critics say the government’s own austerity has directly contributed by worsening deprivation as police, mental health and social work budgets are cut.

Sir Steve said police wanted to “get ahead of the violence”, reassure the public and deter offenders, adding: “We are looking to maximise the use of the asset we already have.”

In a statement released later on Tuesday, the officer confirmed that the Metropolitan Police was not “considering routine deployments of armed officers”.

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“As part of our response to the increase in violent crime in London we are examining how our armed officers can provide extra support and augment other units, either in response to a serious assault, or to be deployed to areas where we have intelligence that serious violence is imminent,” Sir Steve added.

“Any deployments would be for a limited time only and done in consultation with local policing commanders, and after a community impact assessment had been carried out.

“Our consultation into the extended, yet limited, use of armed police is at an early stage. We will continue to work closely with a range of stakeholders as we discuss operational options in the fight against violence to help protect communities.”

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