|IN 2004, ARMED RESPONSE OFFICERS
FIRED NOT ONE SHOT
|Ready for action: SO19 officers, including PC Graham Biss, are on hand to deal with low-key call-outs as well as major emergencies.|
|Strong team: Sgt Simon Dobinson.|
H IGHLY-trained SO19 officers are as at home dealing with day-to-day call-outs as they are attending bank raids and sieges. In 2004, officers in Armed Response Vehicles (ARV) were called to 13,723 incidents and were actually used at 2,424 of them. But during the whole of 2004, no ARV officers fired a single shot.
Sgt Simon Dobinson, who joined SO19 in October 2002, said: “I have never fired a shot and I hope I never do. When a shot is fired it is absolutely necessary and proportionate to the threat perceived.”
ARV officers work in groups of three and are assigned to patrol three or four boroughs for eight-hour shifts. It means there are always armed officers locally if they should be needed.
ARVs get deployed for anything from a call from the public about someone in possession of a firearm, to bank raids and the early stages of a siege.
PC Barry Calder said: “People have this vision of SO19 officers being very stern. We are simply experienced police officers who also carry a gun and have additional training and a heightened tactical awareness to resolve the more serious incidents. We are there to support our unarmed colleagues on borough as they have the most dangerous job.”
He said they rely on borough officers to provide them with as much information as possible before they get to any incident so they know what they are dealing with.
PC Calder decided to join the unit after 12 years of community policing. He said: “Joining SO19 was something I had often thought about doing. It is probably the most challenging environment I have worked in but also the most rewarding.”
Officers in SO19 have very strong camaraderie, which is said to be based on the absolute trust they have in each other and their ability to do the job, even when the pressure is at its most.
Sgt Dobinson said they have to remain calm because any hesitation could put them or their colleagues in danger. But, until they are 100 per cent certain their call-out does not involve the threat of a potentially lethal weapon, they will treat is as potentially life-threatening.
The other major component of SO19 is the specialist firearms officers, who don’t go on routine patrol with ARVs, but spend the majority of their time on planned operations when boroughs believe they need enhanced firearms support.
Insp Shaun Dowe is a tactical advisor and plans SFO operations ranging from hostage rescue to visits by heads of state such as the US President.
But last year the unit attended 768 planned operations – the equivalent of two a day. The majority were assisting boroughs but included some public order operations arresting offenders known to have firearms, or even intervening in sieges and kidnaps. Insp Dowe said SO19 are involved with “far more cases than perhaps the public or colleagues will realise”.
Insp Dowe said he always carries a gun on operations but tries not to think about the possible consequences of spending the day working with a lethal weapon.
He said: “I do not think you could do the job if you were worried about firing a gun. It sits at the back of your mind, but it would affect the way you would plan your response to incidents if it concerned you. Hesitation can cost lives.
“We have been trained to make the right decision and you like to think the organisation will support you in your actions. If you fire a shot in accordance with your training and the threat you perceive at the time you should get 100 per cent backing from the Met.”
The unit is working hard to encourage officers from all backgrounds to join SO19 and make it more representative of the increasing diversity of the Met.
Insp Kath White said: “All officers, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation are part of a team. You will be judged solely on your professional ability as a competent SO19 officer and nothing else.
“There is much work to be done to dismantle the perception that we are an elite department and unwelcoming of difference.”
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