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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 14:41 GMT
Danger of 'suicide by cop'
Armed police
Report comes as more armed police patrol UK's streets
Armed police have been criticised by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) for the way they handle incidents involving disturbed individuals.

Out of 24 cases of people being shot by armed police, 11 were trying to commit "suicide by cop", the report said.

The PCA study also highlighted "significant problems with command and management".

The report said procedures were "generally sound" and the overall picture was positive.

But it warned chief constables to urgently update firearms tactics for dealing with disturbed individuals.

24 shootings 1998-2001
11 fatal
Five carried real guns
Seven carried imitations
Three had knives
Others all unarmed
As well as the 11 individuals with aiming to commit suicide, another two had "marked mental health problems" and another five were drunk or on drugs.

PCA chairman Sir Alistair Graham said the report was encouraging and the use of firearms still relatively small.

But he added: "The current review does suggest that there are matters of concern that need to be addressed."

The incidents involving replicas and unloaded weapons often involved vulnerable populations

Sir Alistair Graham
PCA chairman
Sir Alistair said more care was needed when dealing with people who were either unarmed or holding an imitation weapon.

He added: "The risk posed by such individuals to other members of the public may be minimal and one of the main challenges for armed policing is developing methods to identify and disarm such individuals without injury or loss of life."

In one case an armed officer went drinking the night before an early-morning raid.

The study recommended breathalysing all armed officers before operations or introducing more severe penalties.

More direct supervision of firearms teams was urged in the report, with one officer saying the team was left to its own devices.

James Ashley
Police were cleared of misconduct after Mr Ashley's death
It also pressed for improved strategies in dealing with "less lethal" weapons such as stun guns or water cannon.

And the PCA highlighted the use of nicknames which brought the units into disrepute.

"Some firearms units use nicknames that do not convey a professional image or are grossly offensive," the authors said.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Ian Blair called the PCA report "inappropriate and ill advised".

'Dubious statistics'

He said firearm crime in London increased by nearly 40% last year to 4,000 reported offences.

A Met Police statement said parts of the PCA report were "statistically dubious".

The controversial shooting in 1998 of James Ashley, by officers from Sussex Police, prompted the survey.

Mr Ashley - who was from Liverpool - was naked and unarmed when he was shot dead by Sussex officers in 1999.

The findings come as gun crime hits record levels and some forces arm officers on the streets.

The report was ordered by Home Officer Minister John Denham.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Police make split-second decisions in dangerous circumstances"
Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner, Ian Blair
"A review of tactics across England and Wales is extremely sensible"
PCA Chairman, Sir Alistair Graham
"There's a need to develop tactics and improve training"
See also:

22 Jun 02 | Scotland
05 Jul 01 | Scotland
21 Jun 01 | Scotland
06 Apr 00 | Scotland
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