Date Responded 10 September 2018

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked:

1)      Total number of firearms owned by your police force (if possible: broken down into type eg pistol, rifle, grenade launcher)

2)      Spend on new firearms acquired by your force over the past six years

3)      A breakdown of new firearms acquired by your force over the past six years. 

In Response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention. 

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted within Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police. 

I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows. 

1.  We can disclose the total number of firearms as  589.  These will not be broken down by type as we are applying Section 31 (1) (a) (b) Law Enforcement and Section 24 (1) National Security to both that part and to point 3 of your request .   This is set out at point 3. 

2.  In relation to the figures below, it should be noted that the increase in spend in 2016/17 was part of the national Armed Uplift funding which included the personal issue of firearms. 

Year            Spend £

2012/13       19,458

2013/14       4,686

2014/15       7,880

2015/16       5,935

2016/17       598,320

2017/18       179,668 

1 & 3. 

The firearms will not be broken down by type and we shall rely on the following exemptions. 

Section 31 (1) (a) (b) Law Enforcement

Section 24 (1) National Security.  

The release of this information would undermine the effective delivery of operational Law Enforcement (Section 31(1)(a)(b)) and also would benefit any terrorist or terrorist cells thereby undermining National Security (Section 24(1)). 

The considerations for the Public Interest Test (PIT) are set out below. 

Evidence of Harm

The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve.  In order to achieve these objectives we are allowed to use reasonable force when necessary to do so.  In the ultimate circumstance this can include the use of lethal force but the rule of thumb is to use the minimum amount necessary to achieve the objective.  In reality this equates to the use of the minimum amount of force required to overcome the violence, used or threatened, by those wishing to cause harm.

As part of this equation we also have to pay heed to the Human Rights Conventions particularly Article 2 - The Right to Life.  The law and regulations relating to the use of force are detailed within the Authorised Professional Practice (APP) document for Armed Policing, see below link: 

Armed Policing is a highly specialised area of firearms deployment and weapons training.  It is an emotive subject under constant scrutiny and, by default, is always in the public eye.  There is a long history of excellent practice nationally and Armed Policing is regarded as being at the forefront of firearms issues.   Revealing responses to your questions would reveal tactical capability and is likely to influence the criminals, which may include terrorists or terrorist organisations. 

The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored.  It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.  In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, to assist in the investigative process to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of offenders who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism.

The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built and the police have a clear responsibility to prevent crime, arrest those responsible for committing crime or those that plan to commit crime.  However, there is also a duty of care to the public at large.  The UK Police Service has a positive undertaking to protect the public from harm and that duty of care to all involved must be the overriding consideration. 

Public Interest Considerations 

Section 31

Factors favouring Disclosure

The information requested relates to a specialised area of Policing.  There is a public interest in the community being made aware of all the facts relating to Armed Policing in order to ensure complete openness and transparency as there is often speculation and rumour with regard to the use of firearms within the Police Service.  In this case providing information relating to your request would provide transparency and may enhance public debate into this type of policing. 

Factors favouring Non-Disclosure

The deployment of authorised firearms officers is measured and authorised by chief officers after careful consideration in order to protect the public and apprehend individuals who use lethal weapons as part of their criminality.  To disclose what weapons we have available  reveals tactical capability and would place Northumbria Police at a tactical disadvantage.  In addition, disclosure may also ‘create’ a fear of crime within the general public relating to armed policing.

Revealing the exact amount of money allocated for firearms expenditure, i.e. details of the weaponry available to the police, is likely to influence the criminals who are prepared to resort to the use of extreme force in order to avoid detection and capture.  By fully knowing police capabilities offenders will ensure they are armed to overcome the police response.  This creates if you will an ‘arms race’ to the detriment of the criminals themselves, as the use of lethal weapons becomes more and more the only resolution option, and endangers both the public and officers themselves. 

The risk to public safety cannot be ignored and we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of individuals is protected at all times, as detailed within the harm.

Disclosure could also reveal perceived weaknesses amongst forces thereby giving terrorists locations as to  where their activities may be met with the least resistance. 

Section 24

Factor favouring Disclosure

The information requested relates to weapons available to Northumbria Police, which then in turn reveals capability etc and by default would cross over with counter-terrorism deployments.  Disclosure would inform the public that Northumbria Police allocate their resources This would provide transparency with regard to the use of public funds inasmuch as the funds are being used correctly and appropriately ensuing the Armed Policing Departments within individual forces are resourced and adequately equipped. 

Factors favouring non-disclosure

Whilst there is a public interest in providing reassurance that Northumbria Police is appropriately and effectively dealing with threats posed by terrorist organisations, there is a strong public interest in safeguarding national security and the welfare and safety of the general public.

Any disclosure has the potential to undermine ongoing and future operations to protect the Security of the United Kingdom, e.g. counter terrorism activity.  The risk of significant harm or even death to the community at large would be increased.  

Balancing Test

Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing resources for specialist departments and providing reassurance that the Police Service is appropriately and effectively placing resources into Armed Policing, there is a strong public interest in knowing that policing activity with regard to the delivery of law enforcement is appropriate and balanced, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. 

In addition, we also need to take into account the victims of terrorism.  Public safety is of paramount importance and any information which would place individuals at risk and compromise the National Security of the United Kingdom, no matter how generic, is not is the public interest.  The effective delivery of operational law enforcement and the National Security of the UK is crucial and of paramount importance to Northumbria Police and indeed all forces.  Any disclosure would have a negative impact on law enforcement and national security. 

As much as there is a public interest in known that the delivery of law enforcement is appropriate and balanced, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.  Police force’s capabilities of combating crimes and terrorism are sensitive issues and the release of the information requested would be a huge source of intelligence value and benefit to those whose intent is to cause harm and disruption.  Whilst a disclosure would provide you with a response to your queries, we also need to be aware that it would also provide those with the intent to do so, valuable information on resources available to our officers.  This would give them the opportunity to target any perceived weaknesses within forces and therefore have a detrimental and potentially devastating effect on Law Enforcement and would greatly hinder the ability to keep our communities and officers safe. 

Therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test for disclosure is not made out.  

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