Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland police fire guns negligently 28 times in five years

By Leona O'Neill

PSNI officers have fired their weapons accidentally 28 times in the past five years - seven times more than they shot their guns in 'operational discharge' during the same period.

The shocking figure was revealed in a Freedom of Information request querying the amount of times PSNI officers across all Northern Ireland policing districts have discharged their weapons since 2013.

Between January 1, 2013, and October 31, 2018, only four officers in Northern Ireland fired a shot during normal policing operations.

During this time there were 21 occasions when officers had to fire their weapon to humanely destroy animals. These figures exclude any discharge of attenuating energy projectiles (AEP) or any negligent discharges.

The highest number of shots fired within Northern Ireland during this period, however, were shots fired by officers in error.

The number of occasions in which a PSNI officer discharged their firearm negligently varied across policing districts, with the highest rate in the Lisburn and Castlereagh policing district, standing at six shots.

Officers negligently fired their weapons four times in the Antrim and Newtownabbey district, and three times in the Newry, Mourne and Down, Derry City and Strabane, Causeway Coast and Glens, and Belfast policing districts.

Policing areas in Ards and North Down and Mid Ulster saw two shots fired in error in the five-year period, and Mid and East Antrim and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon saw just one instance each over the five years.

UUP MLA and former soldier Doug Beattie said the figures were "worrying".

"Negligent discharge of a weapon is basically accidental discharge through negligence," he said.

"It's not like they fired their weapon when they shouldn't have. To give some context, as opposed to an officer aiming and firing his or her weapon then thinking they shouldn't have shot, it is an officer unloading their weapon, or putting it in their holster and it goes off.

"It happens because the officer has failed to carry out the correct drill with the weapon and it is worrying. It is worrying because it endangers the officer, it endangers the officer's colleagues, but it can also endanger members of the public if it were to happen when the officer is out on patrol.

"These figures mean that on 28 occasions, an officer has been negligent with a loaded firearm. I think we should all be concerned about that."

Mr Beattie said that the remedial action taken after a negligent discharge "is the most important thing" and that the officer in question is "retrained so they do not do it again".

"Of course these things happen. But police officers have to go through annual training on their weapon, they have to go through tests, proficiency tests, to ensure that they are able to use that weapon correctly," he said.

"What you have to bear in mind is that police officers are routinely armed.

"They are not only armed with side-arms, pistols, but also rifles."

He continued: "They have a number of weapons so therefore they would not be immune to making mistakes in this manner.

"Certainly the military, when they served in Northern Ireland, would have had exactly the same issues, where people would have negligently discharged their weapons.

"It is always a concern and always something that has to be looked at."

A spokesperson for the PSNI said: "Whilst the PSNI takes the negligent discharge of police firearms very seriously, the number of incidents should be placed in context with the strength of the PSNI, which is 6,605 regular officers and 277 POPTs (Police Officer Part-Time), and the fact that the service is routinely armed.

"All negligent discharges of police firearms are routinely reported to our Professional Standards Department."

They added: "Negligent discharges of firearms by officers on duty are routinely reported to the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland."

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