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Disruptive behaviour: keeping firearms off UK streets

Keeping firearms of UK streets is complex work but old fashioned ?nous? is a vital tool in CT policing, an officer reveals.
Published - 22/04/2022 By - Chris Smith

Preventing weapons from getting into the hands of violent criminals is a relentless task for policing.

In London alone, more than 450 weapons were recovered last year.

They are usually obtained through criminal networks and armourers, often exploiting cultural, ethnic and familial links to source regions. The market is supply-driven, meaning criminals’ choice of firearms is usually limited.

Counter terrorism officers are working round the clock to ensure it stays that way.

At the top of the chain is the national Firearms Threat Centre which is part of Counter terrorism Policing.

They had a critical breakthrough when European partners broke the EncroChat network to obtain a treasure trove of intelligence on firearms smugglers.

But that intelligence is only one part of a massive operation – and more specialist officers are being recruited to support that work.

As part of our on-going series looking behind the scenes in Counter Terrorism Policing, Police Oracle has been given exclusive access to one of the CT officers involved in identifying and stopping attempts to bring firearms into the UK and use them.

Here, speaking on condition of anonymity, a Detective Constable with the Firearms Threat Centre reveals how they got involved and what life is like in one of the most critical roles in policing.

What did you do before joining CT Policing?

Before joining Counter Terrorism Policing in 2016, I worked for a force in the North West, mainly in proactive CID, tackling OCGs in several major cities. It was action-packed frontline policing and I loved it, but I’d always had my eye on the world of CT. After a stint in Special Branch, I joined the regional Counter Terrorism Policing Unit in 2016. After an incredible couple of years, I joined the Firearms Threat Centre at CTP HQ.

What is your role at the moment?

The Firearms Threat Centre is a vital part of Counter Terrorism Policing’s efforts to prevent terrorist attacks in the UK, by disrupting extremist access to firearms. We work with police forces across the country, and partner agencies, to develop intelligence and identify any unrealised CT and organised crime firearms associations. Our work is also essential in suppressing the supply of illegal firearms entering the country. We’re the gateway between regional police teams and partners in managing CT risks linked to firearms and national security.

What is your favourite part of working for CTP?

The world of Counter Terrorism Policing is very different to what people might expect; it isn’t putting doors in every day, it’s slower, you’re a small part of a much bigger picture. At first that can take a while to get used to, but it’s incredibly satisfying to know that you are making a difference to national security. The work that is happening is incredible, I still get moments when I discover something new, or a team I didn’t know existed, and I think ‘wow, I’m glad that’s happening.’

There are definitely days when I catch myself smiling about parts of the job, for example, working alongside colleagues from the security services, I didn’t expect to be doing that!

What are the biggest challenges?

When you’ve already worked in policing, it can seem like a completely new discipline, especially when it comes to investigations. Rather than knowing every piece of the puzzle, you’re often working on one small part and that can be tricky, especially for a detective. However, once you get your head around that - and why you can’t always know everything - then you still get that thrill!

What are the skills that you brought to the role/organisation and what are the skills you’ve developed since?

General policing experience is completely invaluable. Anyone that has spent time on the front line dealing with general police work on a day to day basis brings skills that are hard to replicate elsewhere. Having been a detective and had the privilege to work in a number of different roles over the years enhanced my particular skill set prior to joining the CT world.

Having to learn to what terrorism is about, what drives it, what are peoples deeply held views that cause them to contemplate or carry out the atrocities they do is the challenge. It is ever changing and there are global influences.

What’s the thing that’s most familiar with the other jobs that you’ve done in policing? Evidence gathering? Mindset?

‘Coppers nous’ is the most valuable asset I have found to assist in everyday dealings in the CT world. It is essential! On a more practical note…dealing with lots of different IT systems that aren’t always the most user friendly is also familiar.

Are you sat behind a computer all day or do you get out and about?

During my time with CTP I have been in some roles which are quite desk-based, these aren’t really for me so I have sought out roles where I do get out and about more – these do exist! Once you join CTP so many opportunities open up in front of you, there is something for everyone and every skill set.

What has been your proudest moment?

I joined Counter Terrorism Policing just before 2017, when we saw a number of domestic terror attacks in the UK. I had the opportunity to assist with major investigations which had a huge impact on communities. I have been proud of my entire career in policing, but I feel privileged to be part of this world, and part of a really great team.

What’s the advice that you’d give to a new recruit to the CT world?

Be patient in coming to terms with this whole new world of policing that you’re now in. The ways of working, terminology, new acronyms are something else! Give yourself time to get your head around everything and make sure you ask questions from the start – things will be alien to you, we’ve all been there!

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