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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 December 2007, 00:06 GMT
'Too few armed police' say Tories
Armed police at Heathrow
The number of armed officers has fallen, the Tories say
Armed police numbers have dropped despite a rise in gun crime, the Conservatives have said.

The fall in numbers has been most serious in "hotspot" areas with the biggest rises in offences, figures obtained by the Tories suggest.

For instance, in Northamptonshire, gun offences tripled in 10 years - but the number of armed officers fell by 56%.

The Home Office said police numbers were "historically high" and armed police strength was a local decision.

'Part of the problem'

The armed police figures were obtained by the Tories after parliamentary questions.

Handgun
The Tories accuse ministers of being complacent about gun crime

Merseyside saw the number of authorised firearms officers fall 15% between 1997 and 2006, while the number of reported firearms crimes rose 62% between 2002 and 2006.

In Avon and Somerset, the number of armed officers dropped from 165 to 117 in the same period, while reported gun offences went up 62%.

Overall, the number of authorised firearms officers went down from 6,738 in 1997 to 6,584 in 2006, with reported firearms offences rising more than 10%.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the figures showed ministers were "part of the problem".

HAVE YOUR SAY
I don't think that our culture is comfortable with anyone carrying a gun.
Colin, Plymouth, United Kingdom

"These are yet more statistics betraying the government's complacent approach to gun crime," he said.

"It is clear that when it comes to tackling the scourge of gun crime and other violent crime, Labour are part of the problem, not the solution."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Police numbers are historically high and the make up of a local force, including firearms officers, is an operational matter for the local chief constable based on local factors including the number of firearms offences."



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