Armed police to be trained to shoot through windscreens to stop vehicle attacks

Damien Gayle
A recruitment drive for armed officers aims to increase numbers to around 10,500. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Armed police are being given new instructions to shoot through the windscreens of moving vehicles to stop Westminster-style attacks involving cars and lorries.

Simon Chesterman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on armed policing, said it was a change from a former policy that advised officers not to shoot drivers in motion and risk sending the vehicles out of control.

“But if the vehicle’s being used as a weapon in the first place there aren’t many tactics available in relation to stopping it, particularly a very large lorry,” he said. “Driving a vehicle in front of it is not going to stop it, so you need to shoot the driver.”

Chesterman said that one of the key challenges presented by the change of tactic was getting the correct type of ammunition to penetrate windscreen glass. “What tends to happen is that when a bullet hits glass, it will deflect it, so shooting through glass is difficult,” he said.

But he added: “I’m confident that our armed response vehicle officers are equipped with the right weaponry and ammunition to stop a lorry.”

Speaking to crime reporters, Chesterman said that as part of the response to the threat of large-scale terror attacks such as those which occurred in Paris and Mumbai in recent years, police forces across the UK are in the process of recruiting thousands of new armed officers.

The recruitment drive, which will eventually increase the number of armed officers to about 10,500 (the same level as 2010), comes despite the number of recorded firearms offences being at around half the level of 15 years ago, at 5,478 in 2015-16 compared with 10,248 in 2002/03.

The goal is to increase numbers of two kinds of armed officers: those who are deployed in armed response vehicles (ARVs) – the first response to any shooting incident – and counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers (CTSFOs), who are more akin to military special forces.

Chesterman, who is leading what is known officially as the armed uplift programme, said 41 more ARVs were now on patrol in high-risk areas – in line with targets. However, he admitted that forces were set to miss their target for recruiting the more elite CTSFOs. Recruitment has been extended until the end of next year.

Forces had faced recruitment challenges for armed roles, Chesterman said, despite getting sufficient numbers of volunteers.

“I do have some concerns about whether they are the right people, because we are very choosy, as you would hope; and the training is very exacting and very difficult so we get a very high attrition rate,” he said.

“We are definitely attracting people who maybe wouldn’t have become firearms officers before but because there is such an opportunity opening up now they are putting themselves forward and we are having to sift those out. So just because we are getting the numbers applying doesn’t mean we are going to be getting the right number of people, and the right people, out of the other end of the process.”

Chesterman added that post-shooting investigations were also a worry for officers working in armed roles, referring particularly to the officer currently on bail, waiting to hear whether he will be charged with murder over the killing of Jermaine Baker in 2015.

Chesterman said that officers were particularly concerned about draft guidance from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which would insist on separating officers involved in operations where weapons were fired before they gave statements on what had happened.

“You’ve got this general concern about the fact that they perceive they are going to be treated as a suspect of wrongdoing, rather than a professional witness who has done their job,” he said.

In February, the head of the IPCC, Anne Owers, reacted angrily to similar arguments put forward by the former Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, in his last set-piece speech in the job, where he called for more trust in armed police.

Owers pointed out that in 24 investigations the IPCC completed since 2010, police had been treated as suspects in only three incidents, and accused officers of giving evasive statements or refusing to answer questions in interviews.

“Rigorous independent scrutiny is not a threat; it is a protection,” she wrote in the Times. “If the police appear to shy away from this, there is a real risk to public trust.”

On Wednesday an IPCC spokesman responded to Chesterman’s criticisms by saying the new guidance was aimed at getting the “best evidence” and denied it would treat officers as suspects.

“Separation of witnesses is usual practice during police investigations and it’s the practice we believe should take place after a death following police contact,” the spokesperson said.

“That does not mean we treat or regard officers as suspects from the outset. We investigate deaths with an open mind and assess the evidence impartially.”

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