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Operational Policing

Police use of firearms

On this page you will find information on the use of firearms by police officers. You can also read about the investigation into the Stockwell shooting of Mr de Menezes, the latest firearms statistics for England and Wales and less lethal options such as Taser, AEP and DIP.

The policy in England and Wales has long been that the police should not generally be armed and that gives a character to our policing that we should not readily give up.

But where an operational need arises, specialist armed officers should be available to be deployed. The use of firearms is a rare last resort, considered only when there is a serious risk to public or police safety.

When it is necessary for police officers to use firearms, it’s vital that they’re properly equipped and expertly trained, to respond effectively to the serious situations they may have to face. The ability to use firearms is limited to a relatively small number of highly trained officers.

The use of firearms by police officers is closely governed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) guidelines.

Read the manual of guidance on police use of firearms (new window).

Force must be 'reasonable'

Once authorised to use firearms, it is up to the individual officer to ensure they act within the law. Under section three of the Criminal Law Act 1967, the use of force for the prevention of crime and apprehension of offenders, and those unlawfully at large (both by the police and the public) must be ‘reasonable’ in all the circumstances. It may be for a court to decide whether the officer’s behaviour was reasonable.

It is up to chief officers to determine the number of authorised firearms officers in their force.  As the code of practice on the police use of firearms and less lethal weapons makes clear, chief officers should carry out a thorough threat and risk assessment as a basis for deciding the number of authorised firearms officers.

Stockwell shooting

The death of Mr de Menezes was a terrible tragedy, as everybody acknowledges, and needed to be very properly and fully investigated. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) carried out an investigation into the shooting at Stockwell tube station. The IPCC investigates all fatal police shootings and is completely independent of the police service. The IPCC passed their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider whether any police officers should face criminal charges.

On 17 July 2006, the CPS informed the IPCC that there was insufficient evidence to bring prosecutions against any individual officer. The CPS also announced that it would commence proceedings against the office of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis for an offence under sections 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 of failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare of Jean Charles de Menezes on 22 July 2005. These proceedings began on 1 October 2007. A guilty verdict was returned by the jury on 1 November 2007 and the judge imposed a fine on the Metropolitan Police Service of £175,000 with £385,000 in costs. 
The IPCC will consider whether any disciplinary action should be taken against any officer in due course and in accordance with the provisions of the Police Reform Act 2002. The IPCC published their report of its investigation into the shooting of Mr de Menezes on 8 November 2007.  A copy is available on the IPCC website (new window).

Less lethal options

The Home Office constantly considers and reviews equipment that may be less lethal than conventional firearms, and suitable for the police to use. All technologies have differing levels of usefulness, levels of risk and effectiveness. Any equipment ultimately issued to police officers is subject to rigorous testing, and would also undergo independent medical assessment.

The Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) (new window) is tasked with keeping up to date with developments in the less lethal weaponry arena.  All new technologies are investigated to see how well they meet the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) operational requirement for less lethal options. 

For more information on less lethal options, please visit the following pages:

Firearms licensing

Are you are member of the public looking for guidance, good practice or downloadable application forms?

Please visit the firearms licensing guidance page

Home Office websites