Scotland Yard is reviewing its firearms capability in the wake of the shootings in France and Belgium, after losing hundreds of armed officers over the last five years.
After British police were warned they may be specifically targeted in future terror attacks, it is understood senior officers at the Metropolitan police are considering the numbers of available authorised firearms officers.
Scotland Yard has lost 752 authorised firearms officers, down from 2,897 in 2009 to 2,145 last year, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Police Oracle website show.
There were 4,986 authorised firearms officers in England and Wales last year, down from at least 5,746 in 2009. In contrast, the manhunt in France that followed the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices involved more than 88,000, mostly armed, French police, gendarmes and special forces.
Mark Rowley, the Met’s assistant commissioner and Britain’s national policing lead for counter-terrorism, said the force was reviewing its “ability to prevent and respond to terrorist incidents”, and sources have clarified that this extended to firearms capability.
It comes after Greater Manchester police apparently abandoned plans to reduce its firearms capability following the events in Paris.
Senior officers at the force reportedly agreed that proposals to reduce the number of firearms officers should not go ahead amid claims from Mark Williams, chairman of the Police Firearms Officers Associations, that cuts were “naive” in light of the terrorist threat to police, which has been raised to severe – its highest level yet.
Overall, the UK’s threat level is also rated severe, meaning an attack is deemed highly likely.
Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales – which continues to push for more officers to be trained specifically in the use of firearms – said: “Something has to be done about resourcing and something has to be done now. The government risks failing the public by not taking seriously the warnings from policing professionals about the effect of the cuts to this vital public service. Recent events should surely put that in context.”
Police officers were recently warned not to wear their uniforms while travelling to and from work amid fears they could be targeted.
On Friday, Scotland Yard said that patrols of Jewish communities would be stepped up.
The review comes as Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, warned that fully containing the threat posed by terrorism in Europe was very challenging, adding there was no guarantee further attacks could be prevented.