An Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO) is a British police officer who has received training and authorisation to carry and use firearms. The designation is significant because within the United Kingdom police officers do not routinely carry firearms. Police officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, however, do routinely carry firearms due to the nature of the threat that they have historically faced. Also the Ministry of Defence Police who guard MoD property and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary who guard civil nuclear energy facilities, routinely carry firearms.
All police services in the United Kingdom have an AFO selection process , varying slightly between each force. As with many police specialties, all Authorised Firearms Officers have volunteered for the role. Candidates are required to gain approval from their superiors before embarking on a series of interviews, psychological and physical fitness, medical and assessment days before permission to commence firearms training is approved. This is no guarantee of success - candidates can be returned to their previous role at any point in training.
Authorised Firearms Officers, who are known to crew Armed Response Vehicles (ARV) are invited to attend the Training Centre, after they have undergone the written tests and interviews along with the successful completion of their probationary period, with a further two years in a core policing role. The potential AFOs undergo one week of intensive training on the Glock 17 Pistol, and the Heckler & Koch MP5 Semi-Automatic Carbine. This is followed by a further six weeks of training focused on ARVs, such as driving techniques, high speed pursuit methods and safely executing controlled crashes. If successful, officers then carry a card signed by the designated chief firearms officer in their force, and may draw weapons and deploy to incidents when authorised.
Once authorised, officers must go through regular and rigorous refresher courses and retests in all aspects of their training in order to keep their firearms 'ticket', such as being tested every four months, and requalifying for the role each year. Failing in any aspect can result in the officer having their ticket revoked, and any health issues which arise can also result in suspension from firearms duties, temporarily or otherwise.
AFOs are utilised in certain units such as the Flying Squad (which deals with commercial armed robbery), Diplomatic Protection, and Special Branch (counter-terrorism).
Officers of the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary are frequently armed due to the high-risk nature of the establishments they protect. They are the onlypolice forces to be armed with the Heckler & Koch MP7 personal defense weapon instead of the MP5 and G36 used by territorial police services.
AFO is the first level of firearms authorisation, the next being Specialist Firearms Officer (SFO), who are trained in skills such as hostage rescue and deal with major incidents or pre-planned operations.
Qualification as an AFO allows the officer to use not only conventional firearms, but also the Baton Gun and Taser. With the exception of a small number of 'Specially Trained Units' (STUs), only AFOs or SFOs can use these less-lethal weapons.
AFO Firearms differ slightly from force to force, but the most common are: