Armed police attend record-low number of incidents in Bedfordshire - the equivalent of six a week
It's thought reduction may be due to impact of lockdown restrictions
Armed police officers in Bedfordshire responded to a record-low number of incidents last year, new figures reveal.
It came amid a drop in operations across England and Wales, despite a temporary raising of the UK's terror threat level last autumn.
Home Office data shows Bedfordshire Police deployed armed police to 291 incidents in the year to March – the equivalent of six every week.
That was down from 380 in 2019-20, and the lowest number since comparable records began in 2008-09.
Across England and Wales, the number of police firearms operations fell for the second consecutive year to 18,262, down 6 per cent from 19,393 in 2019-20.
The latest period saw officers fire their weapons on four occasions, compared to five the year before.
The overall drop in operations came during a year when the UK terrorism threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe" in November, following a series of attacks in France and Austria.
However, in February this year, the level returned to 'substantial', meaning an attack was a strong possibility.
The Home Office said the reduction in firearms operations last year may reflect the impact of lockdown restrictions in place during the pandemic.
It said armed officers are only deployed to incidents where someone else is armed or is considered so dangerous that use of a gun may be necessary.
The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said the small proportion of incidents which led to an officer firing a gun was a mark of the quality of training and officers' professionalism
Chief constable Simon Chesterman, the NPCC's lead for armed policing, said: “The discharging of weapons is always a last resort and I’m proud to see that despite more than 18,000 firearms operations, there were only four occasions when our officers were required to do this."
Mr Chesterman also said forces are now better equipped when dealing with operations thanks to an increase in the number of armed response vehicles, with at least one present at 92 per cent of call-outs last year.
"Forces are able to respond to major incidents such as terrorist attacks faster and with greater numbers," he added.
The figures also show there had been a small decrease in the number of firearms officers across England and Wales, down 1 per cent over the year to 6,543 in March.
The count did not include officers absent due to sickness, or those isolating due to Covid-19.
However, the number was still 16 per cent higher than five years previously, when a £143 million recruitment drive for around 1,500 more firearms officers was launched.
As of March 31, Bedfordshire Police had 61 armed officers – four fewer than the year before, but up by nine compared to 2016.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "All forces in the UK have an armed police capability – it is for chief officers to determine the number of armed officers and taser trained officers in their areas based on a thorough assessment of threat and risk."