Armed police to patrol London

Scotland Yard announces armed patrols of dangerous estates

Armed police are to conduct "routine" patrols of "crime hotspots" in an attempt to tackle rising gun crime in the capital.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police's specialist CO19 unit have started patrolling three areas in London - Tottenham, Brixton and Haringey - in response to a 17 per cent rise in firearms offences over the past year. The number of reported incidents has risen from 1,484 to 1,737, whilst nationally gun crime has fallen by five percent.

Police blame the increase on gang wars fuelled by competition for drug territory. Three Turkish men were killed recently as the result of a major gang rivalry in North London and armed confrontations are frequent in areas of South London notorious for drug dealing.

In a break from normal police procedure, a 20-strong team of officers carrying sub machine guns and pistols will attempt to proactively seek out those responsible.

Already a political row has erupted, with many calling for London Mayor Boris Johnson to call an emergency meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) oversight committee to address concerns.

Johnson was not made aware of the patrols in advance. A spokeswoman said: "The mayor was concerned by reports about the use of armed officers but has been reassured by Sir Paul Stephenson there is no intention of using armed police in routine manner.

"Armed police have a role in certain circumstances but that should be the exception not the norm."

Brian Paddick, ex-deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the move was potentially dangerous and counter-productive.

"There is a danger of further distancing the police from the public," he told BBC Radio 4. "The other danger with this, of course, is that these armed officers are working alongside unarmed community officers... If there is an escalation, if criminals start to carry guns because the police are carrying guns, how do they know which police officer has a gun and which doesn't have a gun?"

Labour's policing spokesperson on the London Assembly, Joanne McCartney, criticised the move: "We want fewer guns on the streets, not more, and people to feel safe in their community -- not scared of those who are supposed to protect them. There has been no debate, no consultation and apparently no consideration to the strong opposition that exists to arming the police."

Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the MPA, echoed such concerns, claiming the new initiative would be ineffective and represent a move away from more constructive community policing methods.

"This is a totally unacceptable departure from normal policing tactics," she said. "I hope the Met will rethink this terrible decision immediately and think of a genuinely proactive way to prevent gun crime."