How often do armed police officers use their firearms?

The latest annual statistics on police firearms usage in England and Wales show a stable trend in the use of firearms by law enforcement agencies.

In the year ending March 31, 2023, there were 18,398 firearms operations, a figure which is only slightly higher than the previous year’s count of 18,257.

A police firearms operation is the authorised deployment of armed officers where they may have to protect themselves or others from a person who is either in possession of a firearm or other weapon, has immediate access to a firearm or weapon, or is otherwise so dangerous that the officer’s use of a firearm may be necessary.

POLICE Lambeth Numbers
(PA Graphics)

The figures also show that breaking with a three-year downward trend, the Metropolitan Police Service in London reported an 18% surge in firearm operations, contributing to a total of 3,685 recorded operations.

West Midlands Police, which alongside the Met accounted for 34% of all firearms operations, experienced a different trajectory, seeing a 9% decrease, totalling 2,538 operations during the same period.

A consistent trend appeared to be the widespread use of armed response vehicles (ARVs), which were deployed in 92% of the recorded firearms operations. The number has remained constant over the past few years, highlighting the integral role ARVs play in police operations.

Meanwhile, the total number of authorised armed officers remained stable at 6,651, with 6,038 officers being operationally deployable.

While the overall number of police firearm operations is 18,398, 10 incidents in total involved the intentional discharge of firearms at individuals during the reporting period.

The report published alongside the figures noted that the Covid-19 pandemic, marked by restrictions and lockdowns starting in March 2020, led to a notable reduction in crime and offending in England and Wales, potentially impacting statistics from 2020 to 2022, requiring cautious comparisons.

POLICE Lambeth Numbers
(PA Graphics)

The annual figures were published in July by the Home Office and contained statistics for the 43 police forces in England and Wales.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) separately published figures showing the number of deaths in or following police custody in July.

They showed the number had surged from 11 in the previous year to 23 in 2022/23, the highest since 2017/18 when there were also 23 fatalities.

The annual data released by the police watchdog on deaths during or following police contact also revealed fatal road traffic incidents (RTIs) decreased to 26, the lowest since 2020/21, and that there were three fatal police shootings, compared with two last year, consistent with the average recorded since 2004/05.

Recorded apparent suicides following custody were 52, the report showed, lower than the 57 last year.