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Armed policing strength set to surge as forces beef up defences against attacks

Britain's armed policing strength will surge to more than 10,000 by next year as forces beef up their defences against terrorist attacks.

A major uplift in the number of authorised firearms officers on hand to respond to a marauding assault by extremists was launched in the wake of the Paris atrocity in November 2015.

So far roughly 640 additional personnel trained to carry guns have been added to forces in England and Wales, with the overall number of AFOs set to rise to around 7,000 by April 2018.

But this figure does not take account of roughly 3,500 armed officers attached to non-geographical forces - the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the National Crime Agency and the Ministry of Defence Police.

When these presences are included, the total number is expected to stand at around 10,500 in 12 months' time.

Giving an update on the staffing surge, national lead for armed policing Simon Chesterman said there was now a "very potent" capability.

The most recent figures available showed there were 5,639 AFOs in forces across England and Wales as of the end of March last year. This was a slight fall on the previous year and meant the number had dwindled by more than 1,000 in five years.

Mr Chesterman said: " It is true that by the time we've delivered the uplift we will in effect be back where we were in 2010. But there is an important distinction to make.

"Since that time we've honed and improved our plans to mobilise the non-Home Office forces so there is a cavalry there. There are plans in extremis that ministers can deploy military on to the streets. All that planning has taken place."

He said the gap that developed in recent years has been filled with armed vehicle response officers as opposed to more "basic" firearms personnel.

"There's a higher level of capability," said Mr Chesterman, the d eputy chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

" So although the capacity is very similar to what it was in 2010 the capability is phenomenally different and much improved and increased.

"I am convinced that in terms of what we are actually capable of delivering now, it's far more than it was."

As part of the recruitment drive, the network of specialist counter-terrorism firearms officers is also set to double in size. Members of these units are highly trained, including in operations involving ships or aircraft.

Mr Chesterman also warned that there was a "perfect storm" brewing in the background, which could hit efforts to attract the best candidates to armed policing and retain current personnel.

He cited factors including concerns among firearms officers that they will be treated as suspects rather than professional witnesses if they are involved in police shootings.

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