Armed officers respond to more incidents

ARMED response officers in Suffolk are responding to more incidents than ever before despite gun crime in the county falling according official figures.

ARMED response officers in Suffolk are responding to more incidents than ever before despite gun crime in the county falling according official figures.

Latest statistics from Suffolk Constabulary show that for the nine months since April, armed officers have already attended 210 incidents - compared to 189 for the whole of the previous financial year.

Figures released by the Home Office this week, showed that firearm offence in Suffolk, excluding those involving airguns, had dropped by a third from 22 in 2000-2001 to only 15 last year.

A Home Office spokesman today explained the figures released on Thursday and were reported in later editions of the Star, and said the 15 incidents in Suffolk related to crimes recorded by police in which firearms have been used.

He said: "In relation to our figures, firearms being 'used' is defined as either being fired, used as a blunt instrument or used with the intent to cause a threat."

However, the statistics given by Suffolk Police relate solely to the number of incidents their armed response officers have attended and not the number of incidents in which a firearm was used.

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A police spokeswoman said: "Last year (April to March 2001/2002) armed officers attended 189 incidents, in the first nine months of this year the number of incidents was 210.

"It is important that the public understand that there is no correlation between these figures and the number of offences where live firearms were used by offenders.

"There are many incidents for which the presence of an armed officer is deemed necessary for the safety of the public and police officers alike.

"The sort of incidents armed officers attend includes pre-planned operations, where there is intelligence which suggests that the people involved might be violent or have access to any type of weapon, as well as where we have a report of any type of weapon being used in public in an inappropriate manner.

"It difficult to distinguish between replica, air weapons and even toy guns. For reasons of public safety armed officers will be called to respond to any incident where there is any suggestion that a live weapon could be present.

"We are fortunate to live in Suffolk which is a very safe county and it is encouraging that the number of offences involving the improper use of live firearms has decreased dramatically.

"However we need to reduce the number of incidents where replica and air weapons are used in an inappropriate manner in public places. People need to adopt a more responsible attitude when handling any sort of weapon whether real or not. They must realise that the guns that we respond with are always real."

Gun crime has soared dramatically across the country as a whole with criminals using handguns in nearly 50 per cent more offences, according to Home Office figures.

Across England and Wales gun crime soared by 35 per cent and firearms were used in 9,974 recorded crimes in the 12 months to last April, up from 7,362.

Number of incidents armed response officers in Suffolk have attended over the last seven years.

1996/97 – 180

1997/98 – 193

1998/99 – 174

1999/00 – 165

2000/01 – 176

2001/02 – 189

First nine months this financial year - 210

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