KENT POLICE have committed to ensure that the number of firearms officers in the county returns to its previous high quotas, in response to the heightened threat of terrorist activity.
The move comes after it was revealed that existing firearms officers have been working overtime in order to make up for a lack of personnel – or they have been shipped in from other forces around the country.
Kent Police told the Times: “In February 2016, the Chief Constable authorised the number to be increased to 100 in line with the Home Office uplift plan for all forces.”
It added that the procedure for raising numbers from the current level of 81 was not a simple case of recruitment.
“Armed policing duties are not suited to all officers,” a spokesman said.
“To protect and serve the people of Kent the high standards required for this critical area of policing will not be lowered.
“It is, however, planned for there to be 100 qualified firearms officers by early 2018.”
The force has admitted that until this target is achieved, concessions will have to be made to cope with the increased threat.
“I know that the recruitment of firearms officers has specific challenges”
“In the interim period, the required operational uplift will be maintained utilising Kent officers working enhanced duties or, where required, via mutual aid from other forces under nationally agreed arrangements.”
The statistics for armed police was discussed at Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Matthew Scott’s Performance and Delivery Board meeting on 7 June.
Mr Scott said: “I would like to thank those Kent officers who do volunteer to carry a firearm. I fully appreciate the additional pressure they are put under, and the extra shifts that they have been doing recently to provide public reassurance on the streets of Kent.”
He explained that last year’s precept had been increased to pay for an additional 24 firearms officers, and added: “The Chief Constable has told me that 22 of those posts have been filled and the other two posts will be filled very shortly.”
Mr Scott acknowledged that recruiting new officers was not only a budgetary issue. “I know that the recruitment of firearms officers has specific challenges,” he admitted.
“Officers come under a lot of scrutiny and pressure from the Independent Police Complaints Commission if they have to discharge their firearms in the course of their duty.
“There is also always the possibility that some of Kent’s firearms officers will be tempted to move to other forces and that creates additional posts here that need to be filled.”
He had previously highlighted the fact that London’s Metropolitan Police had the ‘financial flexibility’ to attract more firearms officers ‘next door’ to Kent.
And he said the situation is exacerbated by the fact that all forces nationwide were trying to find more armed experts to bolster their own numbers.
On May 26 this year, the Ministry of Defence Police sent in reinforcements to help the county force in the wake of the terrorist attack in Manchester.
It was announced in February 2016 that Kent Police would be recruiting 37 more firearms officers as a result of a 3.4 per cent increase in council tax – or an extra £5 per person for the police precept.
The then PCC, Ann Barnes, secured approval for her budget from the Kent and Medway Crime Panel after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which she described as a ‘game changer’.
Ms Barnes added: The Home Secretary asked police forces across the country to increase their firearms capabilities by up to 50 per cent. £1.2million of the extra money will help pay for the extra officers Kent Police needs to do this.”
But she also warned 16 months ago: “Money will still have to be found to recruit, train and equip them, though.”
In September last year, Kent police announced that extra officers carrying firearms and tasers will be deployed at key locations such as the Port of Dover, Bluewater Shopping Centre and Canterbury Cathedral.
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Brandon admitted at the time that any shortfalls would be ‘supplemented with overtime’ while the recruitment drive was in place.