Imitation Firearms (7548/19)

Request

Could you tell me, broken down by calendar year, how many police incidents involving imitation firearms were dealt with by your force from the 1 January 2013 – 1 April 2019?

In addition, of those incidents involving imitation firearms, how many prompted an armed police response?

When deciding what types of firearms to include in this data, please use the Home Office categories for this, which defines imitation firearms as:

–           Imitation handgun

–           BB gun/soft air weapon

–           Deactivated firearm

–           Blank firer

–           Other imitation

Response

Please be advised that the specific information that you have requested is not held in a readily retrievable format. However, in order to assist, the force has researched systems that are available for data relating to the number of incidents (recorded crimes and non-crimes) that involved imitation firearms as detailed in your request. These are as follows:

2013 – 150

2014 – 136

2015 – 118

2016 – 118

2017 –120

2018 – 108

2019 (up to 1 April) – 31

Every effort is made to ensure that the figures presented are accurate and complete. However, it is important to note that these data have been extracted from a number of data sources used by forces for police purposes. The detail collected to respond specifically to your request is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system. As a consequence, care should be taken to ensure data collection processes and their inevitable limitations are taken into account when interpreting those data.

The figures provided therefore are our best interpretation of relevance of data to your request, but you should be aware that the collation of figures for ad hoc requests may have limitations and this should be taken into account when those data are used.

If you decide to write an article / use the enclosed data we would ask you to take into consideration the factors highlighted in this document so as to not mislead members of the public or official bodies, or misrepresent the relevance of the whole or any part of this disclosed material.

In addition to this response, West Midlands Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to this request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 23(5) Information supplied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies

Section 24(2) National security

Section 30(3) Investigations

Section 31(3) Law enforcement

Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in this case.

Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption.  Consideration must be given with regard to whether there is a public interest in neither confirming nor denying that any other information exists is the appropriate response.

With Sections 24 and 31 being prejudice based and qualified exemptions there is a requirement to articulate the harm (prejudice) that would be caused in confirming or not that other information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.

Evidence of Harm

It is possible that information captured by this request could relate to investigations that have an impact on national security, for example, counter-terrorism investigations, or other high-profile ongoing investigations. This is particularly relevant in relation to the seizure of firearms.

In this respect, disclosing, exempting or even confirming or denying whether any other information is or isn’t held relative to this request would indicate the levels of activity of police and other law enforcement agencies across the country. This would have the effect of undermining national security as it could lead to terrorists or other individuals or groups with criminal intent becoming aware of whether or not their activities have been detected and could ultimately compromise policing tactics, operations and future prosecutions.

Public Interest Test

Section 24 – National Security

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held

The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and how resources are distributed within an area of policing. To confirm whether any other information is held relating to this request would enable the general public to hold the force accountable for the way in which they deploy resources in order to investigate offences relating to illegal firearms. In the current financial climate of cuts and with the call for transparency of public spending this would enable improved public debate.

Factors against complying with s1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that information is held

Security measures are put in place to protect the community we serve. As evidenced within the harm, to confirm whether any other information relevant to this request is/is not held would highlight to terrorists and individuals intent on carrying out terrorist atrocities and criminal behaviour, the investigative activity within West Midlands Police.

Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information (such as the citing of an exemption which confirms any other information pertinent to this request is held, or conversely, stating ‘no information is held’) which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed. To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have an impact on a force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.

Irrespective of what information is or isn’t held, the public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.

The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would have a greater impact when linked to other information gathered from various sources about terrorism.  The more information that is disclosed over time will provide a detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only a force area but also the country as a whole, should similar requests be submitted across the country. Any incident that results from such a disclosure would by default affect National Security.

Section 30/31 – Investigations/Law Enforcement

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held

There is confirmation within the public domain that police forces liaise and carry out joint operations into the seizure of weapons with other law enforcement agencies such as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), see below link:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-497368/118-arrested-1-300-guns-seized-massive-firearms-raid.html

Complying with Section 1(1)(a) would enhance the public’s knowledge about where operational activity is located and would stop any incorrect rumours or falsehoods that may already exist.

Additionally, the public has a right to know that the West Midlands Police focuses its attention and responsibility to ensuring illegal weapons are confiscated and/or recovered when in the wrong hands.

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that information is held

As stated within the harm to confirm whether or not any other information is held would compromise any ongoing high profile criminal investigations/operations by revealing where there is current law enforcement activity and intelligence. This in turn would compromise West Midlands Police’s ability and that of our partners to engage with each other in confidence.  Ongoing or future operations into any planned serious organised crime investigations involving the confiscation or recovery of illegal guns would be compromised and tactics rendered less effective. This would affect the force’s future law enforcement capabilities.

Balancing Test

The Police Service is tasked with the delivery of effective law enforcement ensuring the detection and prevention of crime. It is our belief that, irrespective of whether or not any other information is held, what is important is the ability to ensure investigations run smoothly and that liaison between other law enforcement agencies has the ability to be undertaken with the utmost integrity. To reveal information which could highlight the operational activity of another agency would not be in the public interest.

Also, weakening the mechanism used to monitor any types of criminal activity, and specifically serious organised gun crime potentially involving terrorists would place the security of the country at an increased level of danger.

For the reasons outlined above, it is our opinion that the balancing test lies in favour of neither confirming nor denying that any other information is held.

No inference can be drawn from this response as to the existence or not of any other information.

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