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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Police fears over rising gun crime
Police searching area where Derek Bennett was shot
Derek Bennett was shot dead in Brixton last month
Gun crime in London is increasing so rapidly that police fear they may not have the resources to cope, the BBC has learned.

Members of the Metropolitan Police's SO19 firearms unit say lack of staff, money and out-of-date equipment is threatening to affect their work.

The BBC's Zubeida Malik says that at a meeting this week, officers reported there had been a 100% increase in firearms-related crime in the capital this year.

This follows the publication of Home Office figures last month which showed that violent crime in England and Wales was continuing to rise.

These criminals out there are very well equipped

SO19 officer

The London Borough of Lambeth had the highest rate of robberies.

The borough was the focus of attention just over two weeks ago when police shot dead 29-year-old Derek Bennett - he was brandishing a gun-shaped cigarette lighter.

Officers serving in SO19 told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that recruitment to the unit had dropped dramatically, and that the pressures of the job were taking a toll on members.

The firearms unit deals with between 20 and 30 incidents a day.

Formidable arsenals

Its members say they deal with criminals whose weapons are more sophisticated than theirs, and who even wear body armour.

Scotland Yard said this week than police in London may be issued with electric stun guns to defend themselves from violent criminals.

The "taser" gun, which uses an electrical shock to cause temporarily paralysis, could be introduced by the end of the year.

One SO19 officer told Today that when he joined the unit in 1995 there had been 750 applications, compared with just 120 last year.

He said the unit needed more money to cope with the rise in violent crime.

I think we're coping at the moment, but we mustn't be complacent

SO19 officer
"We need more personnel in the long term if we're going to keep up with things, but that's again a difficult matter, because of the fact we're not getting the people that want to join the department as we used to," he said

"We must keep up-to-date with our equipment, and I don't mean just firearms, but the equipment we use in other instances, for example opening doors, all sorts of things.

"If we're going to fight crime in London, and believe me, these criminals out there are very well equipped themselves, we need to be one step ahead.

"I think we're coping at the moment, but we mustn't be complacent.

"I would hate to think that we haven't got the correct resources and enough resources to deal with that crime that's going on there, because at the end of the day the buck stops with SO19 - there is no one else to deal with the gun crime in London."

'Instil confidence'

Lord Mackenzie, former head of the Police Superintendents' Association, told the Today programme that the number of armed police should be increased to deal with the rise in gun-related crime.

He added that officers needed to be "given confidence" to use firearms.

"We pride ourselves in being unarmed but what we've got to do, obviously, is to give our officers the best training, the best equipment, and of course give them confidence," he said.

The BBC's Zubeida Malik
"Figures reveal a 100% increase in firearms-related crime"
See also:

02 Aug 01 | UK
Police consider stun guns
19 Jul 01 | UK
Violent crime on the rise
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