Metropolitan Police Specialist Firearms Command

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MO19 Specialist Firearms Command
Emblème du Specialist Firearms Command (CO19).svg
Active1966; 57 years ago (1966)[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
AgencyMetropolitan Police Service
TypeFirearms unit
Part ofMet Operations
  • ARV
  • SERT

The Specialist Firearms Command (MO19) is the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police Service (Greater London, England).[2][3][4][5][6] The Command is responsible for providing a firearms-response capability, assisting the rest of the service which is not routinely armed.

They are full-time units whose members do not perform any other duties. On occasion, they have been referred to as the "blue berets", as they used to wear these. Today they are more likely to wear either blue baseball caps or combat helmets.

Historical use of firearms[edit]

At its formation in 1829, the police service did not routinely carry firearms, but the Home Secretary later authorised the Commissioner to purchase fifty pairs of flintlock pistols for use in emergencies—such as those that involved the use of firearms.

As time progressed, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, being superseded by early revolvers. At the time, burglary (or "house breaking" as it was then called) was a common problem for police, and "house breakers" were often armed. Due to killings of officers by armed criminals in the outer districts of the metropolis, and after public calls debating whether Peel's service should be fully armed, the Commissioner applied to Peel for authorisation to supply officers in the outer districts with revolvers. The authorisation was issued on the condition that revolvers could only be issued if, in the opinion of the senior officer, the officer could be trusted to use it safely, and with discretion. From that point, officers who felt the need to be armed could be. The practice lasted until 1936, although the vast majority of the system was phased out by the end of the 19th century.

In the 1860s, the flintlock pistols that had been purchased in 1829 were decommissioned from service, being superseded by 622 Beaumont–Adams revolvers firing the .450 cartridge, which were loaned from the army stores at the Tower of London following the 1867 Clerkenwell bombing. In 1883, a ballot was carried out to gather information on officers' views about arming, and 4,430 out of 6,325 officers serving on outer divisions wanted to be issued with revolvers. The now-obsolete Adams revolver was returned to stores for emergencies, and the Bulldog 'Metropolitan Police' revolver was issued to officers on the outer districts who felt the need to be armed. On 18 February 1887, PC 52206 Henry Owen became the first officer to fire a revolver while on duty, after being unable to alert the inhabitants of a premises on fire. Following the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911, one thousand self-loading Webley & Scott pistols were purchased. In 1914, the Bulldogs were withdrawn from service and returned to stores. Lord Trenchard standardised the issue of pistols among divisions with the number of firearms issued depending on the size of the area;[when?] ten pistols with 320 rounds of ammunition were issued to divisional stations, six pistols with 192 rounds per sub-divisional station, and three pistols with 96 rounds to each section station. In 1936, the authorisation to carry revolvers on outer districts was revoked, and at the same time Canadian Ross rifles were purchased in the prelude to the Second World War.[citation needed]

A review in 1952 following the Derek Bentley case found 15% of firearms in service to be defective; leading to Special Branch and Royalty Protection Officers being re-armed with an early version of the Beretta semi-automatic pistol.[citation needed]

Armed response vehicles[edit]

A BMW X5 armed response vehicle of the Metropolitan Police

Armed response vehicles (ARVs) deployed for the first time in London during 1991.[7] Following their success, forces outside of the capital later formed them throughout the early to mid-1990s. The concept of an ARV was influenced by West Yorkshire Police's Instant Response Cars, as used in 1976.

Early ARVs contained a secure safe between the seats containing a .38 Smith & Wesson Model 10 for each member, with two 9 mm Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic carbines secured in the boot. After ARVs became established, and the practice was accepted for widespread use, the Model 10 revolvers were replaced by more recent self-loading Glock 17s, firing 9 mm rounds.

Revolvers and pistols could be removed from the secure safe by ARV members, if an "immediate threat to life" was posed, in the opinion of the ARV member. Authorisation to remove carbines required authorisation from the control room once they had contacted an officer of Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) rank. If a high-ranking officer could not be sought to gain authorisation, such could be given by a Chief Inspector in an emergency. In recent years[when?] ARV members have carried their personal pistols on them as a matter of routine, and equipping of carbines rests on the judgement of the individual officer, although the control room must be informed of events.


CO19 officers on training exercise

As it was originally named, the Firearms Wing (designation D6) was formed as part of the Civil Defence and Communications Branch. The wing was formed in response to the murder of three officers.[8] The Commissioner requested applications from officers within the service who had experience in the handling of firearms, such as ex-members of the armed forces or those who attended shooting clubs. The officers who applied were sent to the Small Arms Wing of the School of Infantry to become permanent instructors for the service's newly formed firearms wing. Upon the officers' return to the service, they trained firearms officers.

After the unit had changed its name from D6 to D11, the Instructors possessed a limited operational role that consisted of providing CS gas at sieges. This progressed to providing tactical advice and support and in 1975 as a direct result of the Munich Olympic games massacre, D11 was formally given an operational role in Counter Terrorist and serious armed crime operations. Its officers qualified using the Smith & Wesson Model 28 or Model 19 .357 revolvers, Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistols, the Heckler & Koch MP5 SD (Suppressed) submachine gun and the Remington 870 shotgun with some officers being trained and authorised to use the Enfield Enforcer 7.62 mm sniper rifle and Heckler & Koch 93 semi-automatic rifle in 5.56mm for counter-sniper roles.[citation needed] Throughout the 1970s, the branch increased in size, with additional firearms instructors being recruited to meet the increase in the demand for firearms training. During the 1970s, D11 officers qualified their students in the Smith & Wesson Model 36 and the Model 10 revolvers.

In response to operational demands, the department underwent restructuring in 1987 becoming PT17 (Personnel & Training) and the introduction of non-instructors who formed level 2 teams. Their role was to deal with pre-planned and response operations not involving hostages or suspects with 'exceptional firepower'. These tasks remained the responsibility of the teams of Instructors who became Level 1 teams. In 1991 following the shooting and stabbing of several police officers, the Armed Response Vehicles (ARV's) were introduced and put under the control of the unit drastically increasing its manpower and necessitating its move to Specialist Operations and a new designation of SO19, the Force Firearms Unit.

The unit maintained its training role and continued to train the Met's 4,800 officers who were redesignated as Authorised Firearms Officers (AFO). The level 2 officers underwent enhanced training and those that passed joined selected Level 1 instructors to become SFO's (Specialist Firearms Officers). SFO teams replaced the old Level 1 and 2 structure becoming full-time tactical teams dealing with all pre planned armed operations (Robbery ambushes, warrant service and hostage situations etc.) within the Met and providing specialist support to the ARV's.

ARV officers provided rapid response to spontaneous firearms incidents, such as armed robberies, being the first such organised system the capital had witnessed. Early ARV officers were issued with Smith & Wesson Model 10s, with others being trained in the use of the Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic carbine. The Model 10 was later replaced by the Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. Following a further reorganisation in 2005, SO19 became CO19, due to the department's move to the Central Operations Directorate, at the same time the department was renamed from the Force Firearms Unit to Specialist Firearms Command.[5]

In January 2012 the branch underwent another name change, becoming SCO19 due to the merger of Central Operations (CO) and Specialist Crime Directorate (SCD) to form Specialist Crime & Operations. Since then SCO19 has again been re-designated as MO19, a result of the 2018–19 restructuring, putting it under Met Ops while maintaining the title of SCO19.[3]

While the core function of the branch—to provide firearms training and support—remains unchanged since its creation, its role continually changes to meet the demands placed on it. The branch today fulfills different roles than it did 30 years ago.

All aspects of armed policing in the UK are covered by guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers in their Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms.[9] This manual provides an overview of the basic principles such as rules of engagement and tactics involved in the use of firearms by police officers in different environments along with details of command structures that are in place in all planned and spontaneous firearms operations.

Current role[edit]


As of 2007, the Command is responsible for training the 2,594 Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). These include officers from Protection Command, Counter Terrorism Command, Diplomatic Protection Group, the Aviation Security Operational Command Unit, the Flying Squad (SCD7[5]), Specialist and Royalty Protection Command and the armed officers from MO19 itself.

Potential AFOs are invited to attend the Training Centre after they have undergone the written tests and interviews, and successfully completed their probationary period with a further two years in a core policing role. They undergo two weeks of intensive training on the Glock 17 Pistol and the Heckler & Koch MP5 carbine; both weapons use 9mm rounds.[10] This is followed by a further nine weeks of training focused on ARV tactics and searching buildings.[10]

Based at MPSTC, MO19 provides initial and continuation training for all MPS firearms officers. There are more than twenty courses provided by Nationally accredited firearms Instructors. Courses are based on the National Firearms Training Curriculum, to cover the variety of roles covered by AFOs in the MPS. The courses ranges from firepower demonstrations (to highlight the dangers of firearms to new MPS recruits) and initial firearms courses, to Operational Firearms Commander (OFC) training and National Firearms Instructor courses. There were 683 courses run at MPSTC in the 2006–07 financial year.

Current organisation[edit]

MO19 currently has four tiers of armed officers.

Armed Response Vehicles (ARV)[edit]

The first tier is the Armed Response Vehicle, or ARV. Commonly referred to as the Trojans, ARVs are responsible for patrolling the city and to provide immediate armed support to other police units. ARVs will conduct targeted patrols of high crime areas, and are trained to engage in high speed pursuits.

Each ARV is crewed by 3 Armed Response Officers: driver, communications operator and observer/navigator.[11][12]

Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers (CT-SFO)[edit]

CT-SFO identification patch

The highest tier is the Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer teams, deal with MPS operations and also national firearms operations as part of the CTSFO Network.[13][14] They provide firearms support to borough and specialist units.[14] They are multi-skilled and can deliver all elements of armed policing, including operations to combat major crime, hostage taking and terrorism.[14]

MO19 has seven CTSFO teams consisting of one sergeant and 15 constables, including females, with six CTSFO Inspectors and an Operational Senior Manager with a reported strength of 130 officers.[13][15] An operational CTSFO team works a 7-week shift-pattern which includes night duty.[13] CTSFO teams are able to be deployed by air or the river, using armoured vehicles and motorcycles if needed.[16] On 28 July 2014, the single Armed Response Vehicle service was launched.[17]

In preparation for the Summer Olympics held in London in July 2012, officers were up-skilled from SFO standard, to a new certification known as Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer (CTSFO).[18] This included the use of live rounds during close quarters combat (CQC) training and fast-roping from helicopters, to be able to respond more effectively to terrorist incidents.[19][20][15][21] The training was conducted jointly with the United Kingdom Special Forces.[22][15]

On 30 June 2015, CTSFO teams participated in Operation Strong Tower held in London, the largest counter-terrorism exercise conducted in the United Kingdom.[citation needed] The MPS released statistics that between January 2015 and December 2015 CTSFO teams were involved in 144 operations.[23]

On 3 August 2016, the MPS held a press conference for the announcement of Operation Hercules, displaying the CTSFO teams to the public wearing wolf-grey-coloured tactical uniforms, equipped with SIG Sauer SIG516 and SIG MCX carbines, Glock 17 handguns, Remington 870 shotgun, Accuracy International AT308 sniper rifle, and paraded the BMW F800GS motorcycles used for deployments in central London.[24][25][26]

On 19 March 2017, CTSFO teams participated in maritime Exercise Anchor on the River Thames, their first joint major live-play exercise.[27] On 22 March 2017, CTSFO teams rapidly deployed to the 2017 Westminster attack.

CTSFO teams use the Jankel Guardian armoured vehicle based on a Ford F-450 chassis, as well as various other unmarked vehicles, including Toyota Land Cruisers, BMW X5s and Land Rover Discoveries.[15] The CTSFO training facilities at the MPS Specialist Training Centre includes indoor and outdoor live-fire shooting ranges, an assault house for practising method of entry (MOE) techniques and train, subway and aircraft mock-ups.[28]

CTSFOs volunteers are recruited from serving ARV officers. A candidate has to be recommended by their supervisor, undertake a two-day assessment and pass both shooting and physical standards. If candidates pass this stage they will then be offered a place on a CTSFO course where they will begin to up-skill to their new role.[29]



As of April 2019, the following firearms are in use by the Specialist Firearms Command:[30]

Make Model Origin Cartridge Image
Glock 17, 17M, 19, 19M, 26  Austria 9×19mm GLOCK 17 Gen 4 Pistol MOD 45160305.jpg
Heckler & Koch MP5A2, MP5A3, MP5K  Germany 9×19mm Heckler & Koch MP5-1.jpg
Heckler & Koch G36C  Germany 5.56×45mm Gewehr G36 noBG.jpg
SIG Sauer SIG516, SIG716  Germany 5.56×45mm, 7.62x51mm SIG SG 516 14.5″.jpg
SIG Sauer SIG MCX, SIG MCX Rattler  Germany 5.56×45mm SIG-MCX-Rifle.jpeg
Heckler & Koch G3K  Germany 7.62x51mm H&K G3FS.jpg
Accuracy International Arctic Warfare, Arctic Warfare Magnum  United Kingdom 7.62x51mm, .338 Lapua Magnum L115A3 sniper rifle.jpg
Benelli M3  Italy 12-gauge Benelli M3 Super 90.jpg
Heckler & Koch HK69A1  Germany 40 mm grenade HK69A1 40 kranaattipistooli 2002 Lippujuhlan päivä 2014.JPG

Less lethal[edit]

Officers are also equipped with the non-lethal Taser X26s and X2s. All officers also have the same basic equipment any other officer would have: ASP Baton, CS Gas, Speedcuffs, and radios.

Body armour[edit]

MO19 officers are equipped with bulletproof vests, instead of the standard stabproof vest which only has low-level ballistic capability.

List of operations[edit]

Notable operations and incidents involving officers from the SFC:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Firearms Command History". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 01/FOI/18/000470". WhatDoTheyKnow. Metropolitan Police Service. p. 1. Archived from the original on 13 January 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2019. The Unit is still known as SCO19 Specialist Firearms Command.
  3. ^ a b Commander Kyle Gordon [@@KyleGordonMPS] (15 November 2018). "Clarity on the SCO19/CO19/MO19 naming convention" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  4. ^ "SC&O19 Specialist Firearms Command". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 8 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Specialist Firearms Command (CO19)". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009.
  6. ^ "SC&O19 organisational structure – Freedom of Information request" (PDF). Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Armed Response Units (ARVs) & Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs)". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 3 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Unofficial London Metropolitan Police Firearms Unit". Special Operations. Archived from the original on 6 May 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2009.
  9. ^ Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms.
  10. ^ a b "Firearms Training". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 3 May 2012.
  11. ^ "SCO19 - British Armed Police". Elite UK Forces.
  12. ^ Neville, Leigh. The Elite: The A–Z of Modern Special Operations Forces. Bloomsbury.
  13. ^ a b c "Guidance Note – Experienced Police Officers – Specialist Roles". Metropolitan Police Service. 11 February 2015. Archived from the original on 5 August 2016.
  14. ^ a b c "SC&O19 Operational Capability". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d Vikram Dodd (29 June 2015). "Scotland Yard creates SAS-style unit to counter threat of terrorist gun attack". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Harris, Lord Toby (October 2016). "An independent review of London's preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident" (PDF). Greater London Authority. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  17. ^ Metropolitan Police Service. "2014" (PDF). The Job Magazine. December/January 2014/15 (75): 13. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  18. ^ "More firearms officers ready to protect the public". National Police Chiefs' Council (Press release). 19 April 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  19. ^ "Firearms Training – Commissioner Briefing Paper" (PDF). Police & Crime Commissioner Greater Manchester. 1 August 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 March 2017. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  20. ^ "Minutes of the ACPO Armed Policing Working Group" (PDF). National Police Chief's Council. Association of Chief Police Officers Minutes. 24 January 2013.
  21. ^ Drweiga, Andrew (March 2013). "A Career Policing London's Skies". Rotor and Wing. Vol. 47, no. 3. Rockville, Maryland, US: Access Intelligence. p. 54. ISSN 1066-8098. Archived from the original on 18 November 2015.
  22. ^ "NPCC Lead for Armed Policing has said he is confident in the ability of firearms officers to protect the public". National Police Chiefs' Council (Press release). 18 November 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Various questions inrelation to becoming an Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) officer – Freedom of Information Request". Metropolitan Police Service. 4 March 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  24. ^ "Armed officers increased to protect London". Metropolitan Police Service (Press release). 3 August 2016.
  25. ^ Evans, Martin (3 August 2016). "The new heavily armed face of counter terror policing is revealed". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  26. ^ Davis & Bishop, Margaret & Rachel (3 August 2016). "Hundreds of anti-terror 'Hercules' robocops sent to patrol Britain's streets in wake of deadly terror attacks across Europe". Mirror. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  27. ^ "Major terrorism incident exercise on the River Thames". Metropolitan Police Service (Press release). 19 March 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Police Specialist Training Centre". Cubic Defence UK. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  29. ^ "Information Rights Unit: Requirements to become a CTSFO". Metropolitan Police. June 2018. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  30. ^ "Firearms currently in use". WhatDoTheyKnow. 4 March 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, Steve (1999). The Glory Boys : True-life Adventures of Scotland Yard's SWAT, the Last Line of Defence in the War Against International Crime. London: Arrow Books. ISBN 9780099186922.
  • Collins, Steve (1997). The Good Guys Wear Black: The True-Life Heroes of Britain's Armed Police. London: Century. ISBN 9780712677288.
  • Gray, Roger (2006) [1st pub. The Trojan files:2000]. Armed Response: Inside S019: Scotland Yard's Elite Armed Response Unit (Updated ed.). London: Virgin. ISBN 9780753510490.
  • Gould, Robert W.; Waldren, Michael J. (1986). London's Armed Police: 1829 to the Present. London: Arms & Armour Press. ISBN 9780853688808.
  • Long, Tony (2016). Lethal Force: My Life As the Met's Most Controversial Marksman. London: Ebury Press. ISBN 9781785034749.
  • Smith, Stephen (2013). Stop! Armed Police!: Inside the Met's Firearms Unit. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 9780719808265.