Calling the shots
PUBLISHED: 12:52 05 January 2007 | UPDATED: 22:28 28 May 2010
THERE are some who can - but need a lot of practice - and there are some who, to quote one of their bosses, are naturals . But, as a recent intake to the Cambridgeshire Police Tactical Firearms Unit (TFU) discovered some student officers just naturally
THERE are some who can - but need a lot of practice - and there are some who, to quote one of their bosses, are "naturals".
But, as a recent intake to the Cambridgeshire Police Tactical Firearms Unit (TFU) discovered "some student officers just naturally can't shoot".
Of the 20 officers on the latest course, only 13 were successful, with five graduating to become firearms officers.
Sgt Spencer Evans, who trains firearms officers, said: "The TFU entry course is demanding, but that is because we expect officers to adhere to the highest standards.
"Some student officers just naturally can't shoot, some can shoot but need a lot of work, and some are natural, accurate shots. Most people fall into the middle category.
"The seven-week course is very intensive. There is a lot of work crammed into two weeks and that can be a massive mental hurdle."
The recent use of a Taser gun in the county was the first time a member of the force's TFU had to fire any weapon in a live situation.
But despite the rarity of such incidents, TFU officers are among the most highly trained and skilled in the force.
All trainee firearms officers must complete a demanding seven-week course (the longest qualification course in the constabulary), which covers areas including tactics, shooting, understanding mental health, judgement training and first aid.
Sgt Evans said the tough training regime was crucial to prepare officers for the life-or-death situations they could face when qualified.
He said situations had arisen in which officers dealing with armed men had safety catches off and pressure applied to the trigger - the final stage before shooting - but had never had to fire.
"We like to believe that we have a high level of training", he said. "All our officers are trained in initial negotiation, which helps us deal with, understand and listen to people.
"We do pride ourselves on training officers above the standard that's put out nationally. We have to qualify in our primary and secondary weapons every three months, and every six months for baton gun and Taser."
The TFU, created in 1993, has 44 staff. It has six marked armed response vehicles (ARVs) - Volvos and Range Rovers - which are distinguishable from normal squad cars for being blue rather than white. There are also several unmarked vehicles.
Officers work 12-hour shifts and are dedicated to regular patrol in one of the force's divisions, although their primary function is firearms duties.
On average, there are about 300 firearms incidents in the county every year. This number has increased slowly over the last five years.
At any given time, the least a firearms officer will carry with him is a Steyr handgun and Taser. But the weapon used depends on the individual circumstances of an incident and the range required. At almost all times, a TFU officer's aim will be to "shoot to stop".
The primary weapon of a firearms officer. It is a high-velocity, semi-automatic weapon, which fires a 5.56mm round and can be used on all firearms jobs. It is accurate and effective and has the greatest range of the four main weapons.
Glock 17 self-loading pistol
A 9mm sidearm which can be used in all firearms situations. It is ideal for targets at short range, is easily accessible and accurate. It is used by many of the world's police services.
A less-lethal weapon which can be used only at short range and is effective at incapacitating a person. It discharges a pair of probes into the subject from up to 21 feet. The probes contain sharp barbs, which connect to clothing or penetrate the skin to create a circuit - 50,000 volts is then passed through the conducting wire to the subject for up to five seconds. A Taser was used for the first time in the county last month during an incident in Peterborough.
Accuracy International 7.62 rifle
A 7.62mm rifle with telescopic sights. It is accurate at 500 metres and can be used only by specialist rifle officers. It is the most powerful, accurate and longest-range weapon available to officers and is used in situations including the containment of a building or the destruction of escaped animals. It is used less often than the other weapons.
AEP launcher (TFU baton gun)
Used when a "less lethal" firearm is required. In effect, it is a baton which can be used at long range. It fires one 37mm round, a rubber soft-tipped bullet, which strikes with a similar force to a baton.