Specialist Firearms Command (UK)

Specialist Firearms Command (UK)
August 08 18:29 2011 Print This Article

UK Armed Police

Central Operations Specialist Firearms Command (CO19) (previously known as SO19) is a Central Operations branch within Greater London’s Metropolitan Police Service. The Command is responsible for providing a firearms-response capability, assisting the rest of the service, which is normally unarmed. Within the media it is occasionally compared to the SWAT units of the United States, being seen as London’s equivalent. The unit is based at Leman Street Police Station in Whitechapel, Central London.

On occasion, they have been referred to as the “blue berets”, as they used to wear these, today they are more likely to wear combat helmets (of PASGT type).

At its formation in 1829 the service had a policy of not routinely carrying firearms, but Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel did authorise the Commissioner to purchase fifty flintlock pistols for use in emergencies—such as those that involved the use of firearms.
As time progressed, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, being superseded by early revolvers. At the time, burglary (or “house breaking” as it was then called) was a common problem for police, and “house breakers” were usually armed, due to it being legal for a member of the public to own a pistol. Due to deaths of officers by armed criminals in the outer districts of the metropolis, and after public calls debating whether Peel’s service should be fully armed, the Commissioner applied to Peel for authorisation to supply officers on the outer districts with revolvers. The authorisation was issued on the condition that, revolvers could only be issued if, in the opinion of the senior officer, the officer could be trusted to use it safely, and with discretion. From that point, officers who felt the need to be armed, could be so. The practice lasted until 1936, although the vast majority of the system was phased out by the end of the 19th century.

In the 1860s, the flintlock pistols that had been purchased in 1829 were decommissioned from service, being superseded by 622 Adams revolvers firing the .450 cartridge, which were loaned from the army stores at the Tower of London following the Clerkenwell bombing. In 1883, a ballot was carried out to gather information on officers’ views about arming, and 4,430 out of 6,325 officers serving on outer divisions wanted to be issued with revolvers. The now obsolete Adams revolver was returned to stores for emergencies, and the Bulldog ‘Metropolitan Police’ revolver was issued to officers on the outer districts who felt the need to be armed. On 18 February 1887, PC 52206 Henry Owen became the first officer to fire a revolver while on duty, after being unable to alert the inhabitants of a premises on a fire. Following the Siege of Sidney Street, one thousand self-loading Webley & Scott pistols were purchased. In 1914, the Bulldogs were withdrawn from service and returned to stores. Lord Trenchard standardised the issue of pistols among divisions with the size of the area depending on the amount of firearms;[when?] ten pistols with 320 rounds of ammunition were issued to divisional stations, six pistols with 192 rounds per sub-divisional station, and three pistols with 96 rounds to each

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section station. In 1936, the authorisation to carry revolvers on outer districts was revoked, and at the same time Canadian Ross rifles were purchased in the prelude to the Second World War.

A review in 1952 following the Derek Bentley case found 15% of firearms in service to be defective; leading to Special Branch and Royalty Protection Officers being re-armed with an early version of the Beretta automatic pistol.


The Firearms Wing, as it was originally named, was formed as part of the Civil Defence and Communications Branch or D6 by its designation, the wing was formed in response to the murder of three officers. The Commissioner requested applications from officers within the service who had experience in the handling of firearms, such as ex members of the armed forces or those who attended shooting clubs. The officers who applied attended the Small Arms Wing of the School of Infantry to become permanent instructors for the service’s newly formed firearms wing. Upon the officers’ return to the service they trained firearms officers.
After the unit had changed its name from D6 to D11, level 1 and level 2 officer roles were created. Level 1 officers were made up primarily of instructors, only being operationally deployed after a siege had been established to aid in the resolution of the incident. Level 1 officers qualified using the Webley & Scott revolver, or more recently the Browning High Power self-loading pistol, with some officers being trained and authorised to use the Enfield Enforcer 7.62 mm sniper rifle for counter-sniper roles. Throughout the 1970s, the branch increased in size, with more firearms instructors being recruited to keep up with the increase in the demand for firearms training. During the 1970s, D11 officers qualified in the Smith & Wesson Model 36 and the Model 10 revolvers.

During the early 1980s, a demand for operational firearms support from the department was deemed necessary, owing to the creation of level 2 officers. The role of a level 2 officer was to deploy to pre-planned and response operations that neither involved the taking of hostages nor suspects with exceptional firepower. In 1987, D11 was renamed to PT17, due to it now being a part of Personnel and Training. Officers at that time were issued with Browning self-loading pistols, and Smith & Wesson Model 28 revolvers, along with training on the Heckler & Koch 93.

UK Armed Police

In response to operational demands, the department underwent drastic restructuring in 1991. The roles of both level 1 & 2 officers were merged together to form Specialist Firearms Officer, which continued to have much of the same role responding to pre-planned firearms operation, kidnaps, and sieges. At the same time a new title was created as Authorised Firearms Officer to crew the newly devised armed response vehicles (ARVs) to meet the increase in armed crime during 1991. Using Rover 800 area cars adapted for specialist duties, ARV officers provided rapid response to spontaneous firearms incidents, such as armed robberies, being the first such organised system the capital had witnessed.

Along with the restructuring of officer roles, for the first time the department came under control of the Specialist Operations Directorate, renaming the department to “SO19”. Early ARV officers were issued with

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Smith & Wesson Model 10’s, with others being trained in the use of the Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic carbine. Following a further reorganisation in 2005, SO19 become CO19, due to the departments move to the Central Operations Directorate, at the same time the department was renamed from the Force Firearms Unit to Specialist Firearms Command.

Whilst the core function of the branch to provide firearms training and support, remains unchanged since its creation, its role continually changes to meet the demands placed on it. The branch today fulfills different roles than it did 30 years ago.
All aspects of armed policing in the UK are covered by guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers in their manual of guidance on the Police use of firearms. This manual provides an overview of the basic principles such as rules of engagement and tactics involved in the use of firearms by police officers in different environments along with details of command structures that are in place in all pre-planned and spontaneous firearms operations.

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  1. Durp
    May 16, 10:00 #1 Durp

    The third picture is not SO19 – it’s HSMU from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, taking cover behind an armoured Tangy

    Reply to this comment
  2. Durp
    May 16, 10:00 #2 Durp

    Correction – HMSU

    Reply to this comment

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