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SCO19 join London terror drills


The Metropolitan Police (Met)'s specialist firearms unit, SCO-19 (formerly CO19) is joining over a thousand security forces personnel for a large scale counter terrorism exercise. Code named 'Operation Strong Tower', the exercise will test the capital's response to a Mumbai-style attack i.e. multiple gunmen striking at separate locations. The exercise will be spread over Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.[1]

Some public spaces, such as airports and select train stations have in-situ armed units. British Transport Police (BTP), for example, have the capability to deploy armed patrols. In most cases, however, armed Police units will have to be called to the scene of any incident. Regular unarmed officers in the vicinity are trained to pull back and call for armed backup.

Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) units would most likely be the first armed unit to arrive on scene, with a typical response time of 15 minutes or less. SCO19 ARVs operate in 3-person teams and patrol in BMW X5 vehicles. ARV Officers may be armed with MP5 9mm smgs or G36c 5.56mm carbines. All SCO19 Officers carry the Glock 17 9mm pistol as a sidearm. Other units that deploy ARVs in London are the Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG), City Of London Police (COLP), SO18 Aviation Securty and BTP.

Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers (CTSFO) would also likely be called into action. This relatively new SCO19 element deploys firearms officers who have been trained to a higher level than the ARV teams. Manned by experienced former ARV members, CTSFO teams have been trained to deal with high-level operations such as counter terrorism and hostage rescue, both in London and at the national level.

In the event of traffic gridlock in the capital, CTSFOs have the capability to deploy to the scene by fast-roping from a helicopter (Eurocopter EC145 of the Met's Air Support Unit) or via RIBs piloted along the Thames river network by the Marine Policing Unit (MPU). According to a report in the Guardian, CTSFOs have also been issued with Sig Sauer SG 516 rifles and have trained alongside British Army Special Forces.[2]

Another layer of SCO19 response would be in the form of Tactical Support Teams (TST). TSTs were created in 2004 to provide overt (uniformed) and covert (plainclothes) firearms support to other Met boroughs and units such as the Flying Squad. Their role includes surveillance, performing high risk arrests, raids on criminal establishments and interception of armed robberies. Like CTSFOs, TST Officers will have experience working on ARV teams before being selected and trained for their new role. In terms of training and capabilities, the TSTs fall above ARVs but below CTSFOs. TST officers may be armed with Sig SG 516 rifles.

Despite CTSFOs being described by the press as an 'SAS-style' unit, the Met is at pains to emphasise that SCO19 are first and foremost a Police force. Even when facing terrorist gunmen on the streets of London, their goal will be to arrest, with the escalation to use of deadly force seen as a last resort.

The Met is adamant that its forces are up to the task of dealing with an armed attack in the capital. Their organic counter terrorism capability has been significantly upgraded since 9/11 and 7/7. In particular, the development of the CTSFO teams means that SCO19 is now, in theory, capable of resolving incidents that would previously have been handled by the military.

The 22nd Special Air Service and Special Boat Service maintain teams on alert to respond to a terrorist incident in the UK but their deployment requires approval from civilian powers. This usually takes the form of an authorisation issued by COBRA, the emergency committee of cabinet ministers chaired by the Prime Minister. With the improved counter terrorist capabilities of the police, it would seem that such an authorisation is less likely than ever before.

Related Video / Photos:

Video showing a mock attack by gunmen (played by security services actors) and the response by SCO19 Officers
(Daily Mail)

An SCO19 CTSFO pictured at Aldwych tube station during Operation Strong Tower. The officer is armed with a Sig SG 516 rifle.

SCO19 Tactical Support Team (TST) Officers armed with Sig SG 516 carbines, pictured on London streets during Strong Tower, June 30th 2015.

An Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO) with the City Of London Police (COLP) stands guard during a Service of Commemoration for troops who were stationed in Afghanistan on March 13, 2015. Aside from COLP and SCO19, there are several other police units in London that field armed officers. These include the Diplomatic Protection Group, Aviation Security (Heathrow and London City airports), British Transport Police and Ministry Of Defence Police.

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