UK police are deploying heavily armed ‘robocops’ onto the streets of London as part of anti terror efforts against an imminent threat from ISIS.
Six hundred “Hercules” officers armed with machines guns, military-grade sniper rifles, pistols, bullet proof vests and ballistic helmets will now patrol the streets in order to defend against a Jihadist attack.
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The highly trained marksmen are protected with massive ‘riot shields’ and kevlar body armour and are able to speed to a potential deadly attack on high-speed BMW GS800 scramblers.
They will be trained to operate on water, and to abseil down onto buildings and also have state of the art support equipment including tasers, battering rams, and heavy cutting gear.
Metropolitan Police Service commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the start of Operation Hercules, which will work alongside national plans to have 1,500 extra armed officers across Britain.
There are plans for 500 of these 900 extra officers – which will have the same training and equipment as the London cops – to be operational by April 2017.
Today’s announcement comes as officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit arrested two men in Coventry on suspicion of Syria related terrorism offences.
The men, aged 38 and 40, were detained under s.15 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of financing terrorism.
Plans to boost the number of armed police were put in place in the wake of the terrorist attack on Paris at the end of last year, when 130 people were killed.
Britain’s terror threat has been at ‘severe’ for 18 months, and Sir Bernard said it “would be foolish for us to ignore” the recent terror attacks across Europe.
Sir Bernard said: “The reality of having to deal with armed and deadly attackers is that you need firearms officers who will use force to stop those attackers in their aim.
“Our firearms officers are the ones who will run towards the danger. They are our heroes.
“If (a terrorist attacker) should get through – and we can’t guarantee they wont get through- we’ve got to be ready.
“Despite the fact they are carrying guns, they are still police officers, and I want the public to approach and talk to them – they are out on our streets to reassure and help the public.
“Equally important in how we protect our capital is the relationship that our mainly unarmed officers have built with communities over many years.
“Our communities are a vital source of information and if you have fears or concerns then we want to know.”
In a written piece on Sunday, the Scotland Yard boss hailed neighbourhood policing as “our major weapon” in the fight against terrorism.
But Police Federation chairman Steve White warned that it could take at least two years to get the additional 1,500 firearms officers planned nationally in place.
Some forces are also struggling to get the right quality of volunteers to go through the rigorous selection and training process.
Mr White said: “Some forces are getting volunteers coming forward, but they are not always being selected because they don’t meet the criteria.
“It is vitally important that standards are maintained. The best-case scenario is two years in terms of recruiting an extra 1,500 officers.
“If there is an attack it is unlikely to be an isolated incident. We’ve got to have the resources around the country because it might happen in multiple places at the same time.”
Home Office figures for the year to March 2016 showed that the number of armed officers in England and Wales dropped by eight, but police chiefs have insisted that forces are on track to get the extra marksmen in place over the next 18 months.
He added: “Chief constables are having to make very difficult decisions in terms of managing their budgets and managing the competing priorities that they have.
“With counter-terrorism there is the top-sliced money and the extra money for firearms officers, but that is once we’re having an attack.
“Of course we need them, but we must make sure that we have the relationships built up between local communities and the police service, so that people can ring the police or speak to their bobby on the street and have the confidence to raise things with them.
“If you don’t have police officers having that daily contact in these communities you’re never going to build these relationships.
“Over the last few years in some force areas they have had to take resources out of neighbourhood policing just to keep the wheels on in terms of reacting to incidents.
“You can’t fix this overnight. The resources that have been taken out over the last couple of years is stark.”
Experts have said that police in France, which has been hit by a spate of terrorist atrocities, have struggled to contain the threat, partly because of their lack of community relationships.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he will boost the number of constables dedicated to each ward in the capital.
He said: “We are returning to real neighbourhood policing with a second dedicated PC in every London ward by the end of next year, to be the eyes and ears of our security services and build trust in our communities.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Armed Policing, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman said: “Our recruitment and training programme is now well under way.
“This is a rolling programme, with the majority of new firearms officers to be trained and deployable by April 2017. We are on schedule to meet our targets.”