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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Guns for bobbies on the beat
Nottinghamshire officer with guns
An officer with a gun stops a car in Nottingham
Armed police on the beat have been introduced to the British mainland for the first time.

The decision by Nottinghamshire police to arm officers patrolling two inner-city housing estates breaks one of the longest standing traditions of unarmed bobbies on the beat.

Britain is one of the few countries in Europe where police officers do not carry guns as a matter of course.

Nottinghamshire police said the decision was taken to reassure the local community.

The scheme, known as Operation Real Estate, was set up in response to a gun crime problem in inner city areas and was not intended to be permanent, the force said.

The officers patrol the St Ann's and Meadows areas of the city where there have been at least 14 drug-related shootings in the past year.

Full explanation

The Home Office pointed out the power to issue patrolling officers with guns is devolved to each constabulary and said it was not informed in the decision.

But Home Officer minister Charles Clarke told The Sunday Times he will be asking for a full explanation from Nottinghamshire police.

He said: "I would stress this is an operational matter for the chief constable, but I have asked for a full briefing. For the time being I am not going to say more than that."

Nottinghamshire police
Other police forces will be watching the experiment with interest

The effects of the landmark decision are being closely watched by at least six other forces, including Merseyside and West Yorkshire, according to The Sunday Times.

But the Metropolitan Police says its armed response unit is adequate to deal with drug-related gun crimes.

The decision has been seized upon by Shadow Home Secretary Anne Widdicombe who said it was a "sad indictment" of the Labour Party's crime policies.

She said: "This tells the true story of Labour's failure to tackle violent crime and the real consequences of drug use in society.

'Sad indictment'

"It is a sad indictment of this Government's utter failure that such a move should be necessary."

Nottinghamshire police say the number of shootings in the two areas patrolled has declined from five in the fortnight before its introduction to 10 in the last nine months, and say their efforts have the support of the public.

Police usually only carry guns to deal with sieges, armed robberies, terrorist attacks or diplomatic duties. The only force in Britain which routinely carries guns on the beat are Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers.

Nottinghamshire police
Nottinghamshire police is the first constabulary to allow bobbies carry guns on the beat

Operation Real Estate involves at least six officers, armed with pistols and operating in pairs, spending up to five hours from dusk until midnight patrolling the streets.

They will carry P990 pistols on their hips and are supported by two police vans carrying rifles to be used for special incidents or road checks.

Nottinghamshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Sean Price said the guns were necessary to send a signal to rival gangs that the police were serious about tackling drug-related crime.

He told Police Review magazine: "'We have to show that we are going to be out there to protect the public from these firearms acts that are going on.

"The most visible way of sending that [message] to the public is by saying that our officers are armed.

"It is also about sending a very strong message to those who wanted to use firearms that we are going to protect the public; that this is not acceptable and that we will put armed officers out.

"We are also sending them the message: 'Don't use firearms because we have an armed response to deal with it.'"

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Gun laws to be tightened
26 Dec 99 | UK
Armed crime on the increase
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