Police will no longer face immediate suspension if they fire their weapons while on duty, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.
Rudd said police officers using firearms would only be suspended in “exceptional circumstances” and that there is no rule restricting Authorised Firearms Officers from being the first to open fire.
Rudd’s comments came after Tory MP Michael Fabricant claimed officers are reluctant to discharge their weapons during operations, as they fear they will be suspended or dismissed. He described the current rules as not being “fit for purpose.”
“I’m quite concerned by the fact that a number of police officers, both here at the Palace of Westminster and in Downing Street, that they as armed police officers don’t feel that they are getting the freedom to act that they should have, because of the rules of engagement,” Fabricant said while speaking during Home Office questions.
“Can these be changed to be fit for purpose?”
In response to the Tory MPs concerns, Rudd said: “I can confirm that only in exceptional circumstances would somebody be suspended for using their gun, and there is no rule prohibiting officers from shooting first.
“Their decision is and must be based on an assessment of threat to life, including their own.”
According to the Sun, London’s Metropolitan Police has hired just half of the 600 extra firearms officers it had pledged to recruit after the Paris terrorist attack in November 2015, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds more.
Met Police Federation branch chairman Ken Marsh told the Sun he welcomes the Home Secretary’s announcement.
“What police officer would put themselves in the line of fire with the automatic prospect of suspension and risk of criminal investigation when they could opt for an easier life?” Marsh said.
“Firearms officers need more recognition and support around the difficult role they perform.”
Government statistics report that there have only been seven incidents where police fired their guns in England and Wales in the year ending March 2016.
While the figure is still low, it is the highest since 2009.
The figures do not include accidental discharges, or those used for animal destruction, police training, and deflating tires, however.
Rudd’s comments come after the news last week that new stun guns will be issued to police across England and Wales.
The Home Secretary has approved the use of the X2 Taser, despite acknowledging the weapons have been connected with fatalities.
But police will have to be transparent about their use of Tasers, registering and publishing every incident and its outcome, as well as the age and ethnicity of the person they used it on.
Bella Sankey, director of policy at human rights charity Liberty, said it was “irresponsible” for Rudd to allow the adoption of “lethal” arms.
“The use of Tasers has grown vastly since their introduction – but regulation remains woeful,” Sankey said, the Independent reports.
“Initially intended for firearms officers only, they’re now available across the frontline – and there have been far too many examples of completely inappropriate use, with the BME community and those with mental health conditions most affected.
“Increased monitoring, including ethnicity and age monitoring, is welcome. But it is deeply irresponsible that the Home Secretary – instead of tightening up regulations – is authorising more powerful and dangerous Tasers.
“Making an already lethal tool more lethal will do little to reassure those communities at the sharp end of this practice.”