Some London neighborhoods are set to look a little more like Northern Ireland as elite paramilitary police hit the streets of specific neighborhoods marked by high levels of drug-related gang violence, reports The Telegraph.
About 20 officers from the Metropolitan Police's CO19 branch, the English equivalent of American SWAT Teams, will increasingly patrol "no go" zones where rival Turkish gangs have engaged in violent shootouts recently. The officers, some on motorbikes, will conduct weapon sweeps on individuals.
The unit's methods are a more confrontational and intrusive approach to policing unusual for London. "Unlike typical police procedure," the Associated Press reports, "the team ... actively seeks out criminals carrying or storing guns — rather than waiting to respond to emergency calls about incidents involving weapons."
London has recently seen a significant jump in gun crimes with 1,736 gun crimes reported in between April and September—a 17 percent increase over last year. On average, there are 50 to 60 shooting deaths a year in England and Wales, according to the AP.
The patrols will expand November 9 to the neighborhoods of Brixton, Haringey, and Tottenham, known for their drug dealing and gang violence. The unit has already performed trial runs in pockets of the city saturated with gun crimes.
The move has generated controversy in a country where police generally do not carry firearms, especially submachine guns.Critics charge that the decision violates the tenets of community policing and is an unnecessary militarization of policing in these areas, reports The Telegraph.
Local politicians and anti-gun campaigners have reacted with anger at the news that the officers will carry Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns – capable of firing up to 800 rounds-per-minute – and Glock semi-automatic pistols.
CO19 currently provides armed support in volatile situations like sieges and terrorist attacks, with its officers on constant call in vehicles around London.
But this is the first time that armed officers will be sent on permanent foot patrol anywhere in the country outside Northern Ireland.
Discomfort with the new unit also stems from the shooting death of a Brazilian illegal immigrant electrician gunned down by police in a London tube station after officers mistakenly believed him to be a suicide bomber.
In today's Guardian, civil liberties columnist Jenny Jones wondered how the unit would handle such powerful weaponry on crowded city streets.
"The change was also made without any discussion of the rules of engagement – exactly how does one use a Heckler & Koch at 800 rounds per minute on densely populated housing estates and streets if you meet a sudden threat?," she asked. "This move has all the necessary ingredients of a tragedy waiting to happen."
The unit's new head, Inspector Derek Carroll, doesn't seemed too worried by the controversy or that his police officers will cause heightened tensions on the streets they patrol.
"My view is that just because you carry a gun, it should not affect the way you police," Carroll told The Telegraph. "We chat to people and they love it."
♦ Photo of London police patrolling with submachine guns after the 2005 London terror attacks by abux 77/Flickr
♦ Photo of Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun by MATEUS 27:24&25/Flickr