In my previous post, The Long Firearm of the Law, I gave a brief overview of the use of firearms by UK Police forces in 1979.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the subject again in a little more depth, but to look outwith the metropolitan areas. Consequently I found that the history of firearm use by Surrey Constabulary is well documented and provides a good example of how one force tackled the perennially thorny issue of arming it's officers.
In the 1970's, Surrey Constabulary (changed to Surrey Police in 1993) limited firearms to CID Detectives and designated police officers who were trained as Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs). They were supported by a few snipers, mostly hobby gun enthusiasts within the force and a small specialist unit known as the 'Gas Squad'. The Gas Squad's intended role being to deploy CS gas at sieges and was mostly made up of ex-forces personnel.
1/76 Surrey Constabulary Ford Escort
Surrey's Special Branch Detectives and Police Dog Handlers were also trained and authorised to carry firearms. The Dog Handlers were often tasked with VIP protection duties alongside Special Branch and the common SOP was for the dog and handler to patrol the grounds of the VIP's residence, whilst the Special Branch officer provided close protection inside the house.
Training for the AFOs was periodic and largely based on range firing with little in the way of tactics being practised. Weapons available to Surrey Constabulary at this time included Smith and Wesson model 10 revolver (six inch barrel) for AFO's, Detectives/Special Branch carried the model 36, five inch short barrel, five shot revolver, the 'Gas Squad' used the Webley CS gas gun and snipers' had the Parker Hale 7.62mm Safari sniper rifle.
In 1978 Chief Superintendent Eric Hughes instructed Inspector Eric Adams to form the Firearms Support Team. The role of the Firearms Support Team was to provide specially trained volunteers and uniformed officers of marksman standard, who would be on call for major firearms incidents, sieges and pre-planned firearms operations.
The Firearms Support Team undertook intense training in weapon and tactics in 1979. Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) still remained to supplement large scale incidents and to provide containment and guarding operations. For instance AFOs could be deployed by division to contain an incident pending the arrival of the Firearms Support Team, which could take a minimum of an hour to arrive on scene.
With the Firearm Support Team now taking a greater role in pre-planned ops such as staking out banks, leading raids or making arrests where the suspects were thought to be dangerous and armed, the need for local division detectives outwith Special Branch to carry firearms diminished.
During the early 1980's the Firearms Support Team continually strove to improve skills and tactics. Weapons improved accordingly. The Browning 9mm pistol, Ruger Mini 14 .223 calibre folding stock rifle, and the Remington 12 bore shotgun, with the Hatton round solid slug to shoot off door hinges all joined the Surrey Constabulary arsenal.
Operations could now involve plain clothes deployments in conjunction with the Regional Crime Squad, Metropolitan Police Flying Squad or even CO11. Firearms Support Team members were also trained in rural covert observation and undertook that role on several occasions as the threat of terrorism on the mainland increased.
I hope you found this article interesting. For me, it's prompted several new scenario ideas and I am left thinking that the Firearms Support Team provides a further layer of depth to our Winter of '79/Geezers games, giving the civil authorities a greater degree of experience and firepower to tackle organised criminals. Plus, they can take on revolutionary/terrorist groups without recourse to the military.