Brighton police at an anti-war demo in the city last year - Photo: Bert Quatro
Brighton police at an anti-war demo in the city last year - Photo: Bert Quatro

New figures expose the dramatic increase of armed police being deployed onto the streets of Sussex in the past year. This comes in spite of the fall in the number of officers authorised to bear fire arms in Sussex; in contrast to the rest of the country which has seen a 64% increase.

The Argus reported that Sussex Police denied the large increase was evidence of the county becoming more dangerous, saying that firearms officers were being deployed more because they were more readily available, in specialist units, rather than spread across the force as used to be the case.

Home office figures also revealed that the number of armed response vehicles has surged, with 311 being deployed in the past year as opposed to 165 in the previous year.

Superintendent Steve Whitton, head of firearms at Sussex Police, said: “The increase [in authorised firearms operations] does not correlate with an increase in gun-related crime or increased firearm risk in Sussex. Our armed capability is now much more readily available and we have dedicated teams working in specialist units, on patrol across the county, so if we think there’s a possibility there could be criminal use of firearms or a possible threat warranting an armed response we send officers straight away to make an assessment.”

Armed officers were deployed 21,181 times last year, across England and Wales, at an average of 58 times a day. This is a 17.5 percent increase from the year before and according to Government figures is the highest number in the last seven years. Nationally, overall, police fired live rounds only seven times, up from three incidents in the previous year.

These statistics are revealed in parallel to Sussex police apologizing last week to the family of James Ashley who was unarmed when shot dead in his Hastings flat ten years ago.

Guardian columnist, Nick Davies said in 2001 that “senior officers who followed the Hastings case believe we are at a crossroads. They argue that we can make two fundamental reforms to reduce the number of wrong shootings. First, we can cut right back on the number of deployments and insist police carry firearms only where there is a direct threat to life. Second, we need to explore the potential of non-lethal means of disabling dangerous opponents, such as stun guns or pepper sprays.”

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