The Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19) is the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police Force: the police force of the Greater London region. Compared to their normal counterparts, Metropolitan officers receive enhanced training and are on constant standby, prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice to any firearms incident in London. (Source)
SCO19 provides a firearm response capability to the Metropolitan force which is routinely not armed (like most British police). Members of SCO19 have no other duties and are considered to be a full-time unit who naturally serve at the forefront of British counterterrorism in the nation’s capital. (Source) SCO19 allows both women and men to join.
Furthermore, SCO19 is a member of the counterterrorism ATLAS Group: An international European group composed of 38 specialised intervention forces from 28 nations (Source). It aims to enhance these nations capabilities through cooperative training and information sharing. (Source) Moreover, SCO19 is one of the few non-EU participants of ATLAS.
2. History of SCO19:
There is a long history of armed officers within British Policing. Since the forming of the British Police Force in 1829, firearms have been given out on an ad-hoc basis. Whether it be flintlock pistols or revolvers, they were often issued in situations where firearms were likely utilised by criminal elements. However, there was no formal system in place; rather, the police commissioner would hand out revolvers to officers when their judgement deemed it, which in the Post WW2 years was increasingly inefficient.
In response to the 1966 Shepherd’s Bush Massacre, British law enforcement formed D6: the predecessor of SCO19. In this massacre, two fugitives shot and killed three police officers in cold blood while evading apprehension. This incident caused a mass public outrage with calls for the recently abolished death penalty to be reintroduced and a large rise in the number of specialist firearm officers recruited.
Upon selection into the unit, British police sent prospective D6 officers to the small arms wing of the Army’s School of Infantry for specialised training. (Source)
In 2012 they renamed the unit to SCO19. Its current role includes providing firearms training to all the Metropolitan Police Forces 2594 firearms officers. Furthermore, this includes the specialist CTSO units which are more well-known because of their prominent role in counterterrorism operations. (Source)
3. Organisation of SCO19:
As outlined in guidance issued by the Association of British Police Chief Officers, SCO19’s primary goal is firearms training; however, their role and organisation have evolved somewhat in the 40 years since its inception. (Source) As mentioned, in 2012, the unit was named SCO19 due to the merger of Central Operations (CO) and Specialist Crime Directorate (SCD). (Source) SCO19 trains officers of the following units:
- Protection Command
- Counterterrorism Command
- Diplomatic Protection Group
- Aviation Security Operational Command Unit
- Flying Squad (Famous counter bank robbery unit)
- Specialist and Royalty Protection Command
- MO19 Officers (The armed police that is part of SCO19 directly)
SCO19 currently possesses four tiers of armed forces directly under its command. They are as follows: (Source)
3.1 Armed Response Vehicles:
Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) units also commonly referred to as ‘Trojans’ are quick response units for firearms incidents in London. (Source) They patrol the city and provide immediate armed backup to other police units if a firearm is utilised. They are also trained in high-speed pursuits and engage in targeted patrols in high-crime areas. Each unit comprises three members: a driver, a communications operator and an observer/navigator. Moreover, they are currently utilising BMW X5’s ensure quick response times. (Source)
3.2 Trojan Proactive Unit:
The Trojan Proactive Unit (TPU) is the second tier of armed officers within SCO19. They carry out ARV patrols in crime hotspots to deter violent crime. (Source) This unit is made up of 24 officers, making it a rather small unit. Furthermore, TPU Officers are usually seconded from ARV duty. (Source)
3.3 Tactical Support Teams:
The third tier of armed officers within SCO19 makes up the Tactical Support Teams (TST). Structurally, TSTs are made up of highly experienced ARV Officers who provide backup for other Metropolitan Police units. They operate in both uniformed and plain-clothed capacity. (Source) Furthermore, TSTs often carry out pre-planned intelligence-led operations/raids such as high-risk arrests or even provide backup for the Flying Squad.
While not a separate tier of armed officers, it is important to separate the next group, Specialist Rifle Officers (SRO). SROs are experienced firearms Officers who are trained to use marksman/sniper rifles. Moreover, they often work in tandem with TSTs and set up in overwatch positions at large events. (Source)
3.4 Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers (CTSFO):
The highest tier of armed Officers within SCO19 and the most selective is the Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer teams. CTSFOs deal with national firearm operations as part of British counterterrorism operations nationally. Furthermore, they provide armed support to specialist units and are multi trained able to address all elements of armed policing. (Source)
CTSF’s are on constant alert, ready to respond to major events such as terrorist attacks in London and on a national level. They train CTSFO members to a higher level than other members of SCO19, and most trainees started as ARV Officers. This is due to them potentially having to storm buildings, planes, boats and trains, all while potentially moving. (Source)
SCO19 has seven CTSFO teams, each made up of one sergeant and fifteen constables working in seven-week shifts. (Source) Overall, giving SCO19 has around 130 highly trained specialists on standby and can be deployed by air or maritime transportation. Because of the holding of the Summer Olympics in London in July 2012, they upgraded the unit to new specifications. As a result, the unit is now training with UK special forces to enhance their abilities to a higher standard. (Source) This included fast rope training from helicopters and close-quarter combat (CQC) training. (Source)
4. Equipment of SCO19:
The Equipment of SCO19 is varied and of a prime quality given the nature of the unit and its increased responsibilities.
4.1 Personnel Equipment:
It includes: (Source)
- Heckler and Koch G36C
- Sig Sauer SG516
- Sig Sauer SG517
- Sig Sauer MCX (The most popular rifle in use with SCO19 being extremely common)
- Heckler and Koch MP5A2
- Heckler and Koch MP5A3
- Heckler and Koch MP5K (these are regularly fielded by other armed Officers in the U.K.)
- Heckler and Koch G3K (Often equipped with a scope and bipod when used as a marksman rifle)
- Accuracy International Arctic Warfare
- Glock 17
- Glock 17M
- Glock 19
- Glock 19M
- Glock 26
- Benelli M3
They equip officers with the same gear normal Metropolitan Officers, such as:
- Non Lethal Taser X26/X2
- ASP Baton
- CS Gas
- Bulletproof Vest (normal Officers are just equipped with stab proof but SCO19 are equipped with bulletproof ones)
- Heckler and Koch HK69A1 (baton round launcher)
4.2 Vehicles utilised by SCO19:
Moreover, SCO19 uses a variety of vehicles to enhance their response time and tactical flexibility, including:
- BMW 530D (was the old vehicle used by ARV teams due to its high speed)
- BMW X5 (recently adopted for ARV teams because of the improved suspension being better able to cope with increased weight from extra equipment)
- BMW F800 GS Motorcycles
- Eurocopter EC-145 helicopter (three utilised by Air Support Unit allowing SCO-19 aerial insertion capabilities.
- Delta 1000TX rigid inflatable boats (RIB) (allowing SCO19 to quickly respond along the Thames)
5. Notable Operations of SCO19:
SCO19 and its predecessors have been engaged in many operations since their inception. In 2015 alone, the CTSFO unit was involved in 144 operations. (Source) Furthermore, the unit’s predecessors were also present at the infamous 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege. Some of their more notable operations include:
5.3 Norholt Siege:
The Norholt Siege was a hostage situation on the 25th of December 1985, in West London. Errol Walker took his daughter, sister-in-law, and her daughter hostage. Police unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate with Walker but he killed his sister-in-law, resulting in them storming the flat. Stun grenades were used and Walker was shot, resulting in a major success for the unit as the children were saved. Moreover, it was the first use of stun grenades by British police and the first time in the firearms wing’s 20-year history they had fired a shot. (Source)
5.4 Operation Hurlock:
Operation Hurlock, also known as the Chandler’s Ford Shooting, was the shooting of armed robbers by the Flying Squad and SCO19 in Hampshire. It occurred on the 13th of September 2007 where armed robbers attempted to hold the driver of a cash in transit van at gunpoint and rob the truck. A police sniper opened fire, killing one robber. When his colleague attempted to pick up his weapon, he was also shot and killed by armed police. It was seen as a success as only armed suspects committing a crime were killed and the public held a favourable view. (Source)
5.5 2017 Westminster Terrorist Attack:
On 22nd of March 2017, an attacker, claiming to be waging a one man Jihad in response to British airstrikes against ISIS, drove a car into crowds on Westminster Bridge and outside Westminster Palace. Proceeding to exit the vehicle, the attacker then attempted to enter Westminster Palace but was stopped by an unarmed PC who died in the ensuing fight. (Source) An armed officer nearby immediately ran over and shot the attacker three times before CTSFO’s arrived within 6 minutes. There were 6 deaths because of the attack and the incident is well ingrained in British memory. (Source) However, the CTSFO’s quick response time was reassuring to members of the public. Furthermore, the high levels of publicity afterwards, with photos showing CTSFO patrolling London, propelled them into the limelight.
5.6 2017 London Bridge Attack:
On the 3rd of June 2017, a terrorist ramming and stabbing spree occurred, resulting in 8 deaths and 48 injuries. Three attackers drove a van down the pavement on London Bridge before fleeing the vehicle to look for people to stab in Borough Market. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attacks. (Source) Members of SCO19 caught up with the attackers and fired 46 rounds, killing all three. This was seen as a success for the unit, as the response time was so quick and stopped further casualties. (Source)
Therefore, SCO19 is a core part of British counter-terrorism doctrine, particularly given its central role in London. The unit gives the Metropolitan police an integral capability, which is so lacking given its role as an inherently unarmed institution. SCO19 and its constituent elements are an elite unit that in an age of rising extremism will continue to play a large role in ensuring the security of London.