In the Line of Fire

Tuesday, 10 February 2009, 9:00PM on ITV1

“We are dealing with very dangerous people. We are talking about life or death situations and we are talking about split second decisions.”
Bill Tillbrook, Head of CO19.

“If you think you can go, in this department, without having to pull that trigger, thinking that you are never going to pull that trigger, you are in the wrong job.”
PC Graeme Carling.

Gun and gang crime is plaguing Britain’s major cities and London has been hit the hardest with on average, two people shot every day. For the first time, ITV1 films on the frontline with CO19, the firearms division of the Metropolitan Police, the unit charged with tackling London’s gun criminals.

At a time when gun and gang crime exploded in the capital city and the Met were on trial for the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes, In the Line of Fire’s producers gained unique access to the unit, following its officers for four months at close quarters on live operations. The series provides a rare and compelling insight into a dangerous job, where split second decisions can make the difference between life and death.

In The Line of Fire provides a no holds barred account of the Metropolitan Police’s tough battle against gun crime. Officers are seen at the sharp end of policing, where they are trained to meet force with greater force.

In the Line of Fire films C019 as they respond to life threatening incidents, tackling gang members who show no fear of turning their guns on the police.

C019 officers tell the cameras what it is like to be handed a weapon at the start of every shift and how they approach a task which increasingly pits them against armed teenagers from communities which their experience tells them deeply resent the police.

With the average age of gun criminals in London falling drastically, the stakes in many C019 operations are now significantly raised. Confronting kids armed with guns is becoming commonplace. Searching for the gunman behind a shooting in Tottenham, officers race across London to catch the suspect. They soon apprehend a young man wearing body amour and a single glove. A hand gun is found in the car he is driving and although not involved in the Tottenham shooting, he is later found guilty of being in possession of a gun.

In the Line of Fire also trails C019 Officers racing to help an unarmed police officer stuck in a bullet riddled car, who has been shot at five times. The protracted three hour search for the gunman is fraught with risk, jeopardy and false alarms.

In another incident, where a suspect is suspected of drawing a gun in a nightclub, officers smash the window of his car and drag him from his vehicle. When he fails to comply they fire a 50,000 volt taser stun gun into him, knocking him to the ground. Officers must work on the basis that suspects may be in possession of a gun but on this occasion they fail to find a firearm in the car.

Unprecedented in its access to the Met’s firearms unit, In the Line of Fire provides a unique perspective on the scale and nature of gun crime in the capital today by laying bare the daily work of the officers tasked with leading the fight against it.

“What would you do if a person pointed a gun at you on the street? I’d shoot them.”
Inspector Gareth Reiss, F- Relief CO19.

C019 contains 550 police officers who are all trained to use guns. Every officer accepts that their job may call on them open fire. Inspector Gareth Reiss says: “Officers entering into the department are under no illusion and they are told from day one that at some stage of your service here you will face a life or death situation and it will lead you to make a life or death decision.’ The stakes don’t get any higher than that.”

For every six officers who apply to join CO19 only one will get in. Every six weeks each officer is put through three days of intensive training to ensure they are fit to carry a gun. CO19’s Inspector Matt Twist acknowledges his job carries a heavy weight of responsibility. “In a fraction of one second you have to decide whether or not you are going to use what could be potentially lethal force.’

Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week CO19 has armed responses cars patrolling London’s gun hotspots. ITV1 gained unique access to follow F Relief, one of six uniformed divisions within CO19 for over 4 months during one of the most violent periods in the city’s history.

The official statistics on gun crime reveal an alarming picture, 14,000 gun and knife incidents were reported in London in 2007 alone. In the Line of Fire discovers that behind the statistics a worrying new trend is emerging. The age of both the victims and perpetrators of gun crime are falling drastically. In 2007, 190 children under the age of 17 were shot by armed criminals in London and a quarter of the shootings CO19 attend are committed by under 18s.

The age of the gunmen comes as no surprise to C019’s Inspector Matt Twist: “Ten years ago probably the higher echelons of the criminal fraternity were using firearms for specific purposes to settle scores or commit armed robberies. Now there are children of 14, 15, 16 using guns to settle disputes that would have previously been fights in the playground or fights after school. Now they’re being resolved using guns. It is actually quite scary, if at age 14 or 15 you are prepared to use guns to shoot other people then God knows what is going to happen in the next five years.”

PC Warwick Jones realises that kids carrying and using guns significantly raises the stakes for CO19 officers: “Our worry is the age now of the people that are carrying guns because it is not going to be long before someone in the department I would imagine, shoots a 14 year old or 15 year old boy and we are going to get absolutely slated, absolutely slated.”

In The Line of Fire reveals that most of CO19’s time is spent dealing with gang shootings which are more prevalent amongst London’s black community. The most recent official figures show the depth of the problem. Over 70 per cent of London’s gun suspects are black, as are 50 per cent of the victims. PC Warwick Jones, who previously served in the army in Northern Ireland, feels C019 are fighting an uphill battle in trying to deter some sections of London’s black community from carrying guns. “I was in Ireland when the internment was around and I would say the level of hatred in some parts of London for the police is the same level of hatred that I experienced in Ireland. There are some people in some communities out there that absolutely hate us, absolutely hate us and you know it is there sons that is getting shot, their fathers getting shot and all we are trying doing is help them.”

The series discovers gang members are increasingly willing to take on the police with their own firepower. In the Line of Fire trails CO19’s F-Relief to Peckham, South London where a known gang member has fired five shots at an unarmed police officer in a car. The officer has had a lucky break. Sitting in a bullet riddled car he reveals a nine mm round hit his body armour and the bullet landed on his lap.

CO19 seal off several streets and begin a three and half hour manhunt to capture the gunman. They are successful on this occasion but CO19’s Inspector Matt Twist knows capturing one dangerous gunman doesn’t solve a bigger problem: “We just have a very small part to play because we turn up arrest the people with guns and then move on, but it does seem that there always people there to replace the ones we have taken away, so there is always people moving up though the gang hierarchy, who are prepared to still use firearms.’’

In The Line of Fire shows police officers using levels of aggression never seen before on British television. Car windows are smashed, suspects dragged from their homes and in some cases kicked to the ground. This is all part C019’s tactics. Officers are trained to physically and verbally dominate suspects, firing their guns only as a last resort.

PC Warwick Jones explains: “To the outsider looking in, it looks oppressive and aggressive but what is the alternative? Do we get into a fight with these people and they start grabbing our guns and then you’re in a world of crap that you don’t really need? They need to be controlled early and it looks aggressive but then how do you get an armed bloke out of car? Are you going to knock on the window and say, ‘Get Out?’ You’re not going to do it are you?”

Bill Tilbrook, Head of C019, gives his detailed first interview on the police shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes at Stockwell Tube station in 2005. “The Met has and must always acknowledge the tragic fact that an innocent guy was shot. But what must also be remembered was the unprecedented environment that we were operating in that day. The fact that, two weeks earlier over 50 people had been murdered on the streets of London, and the fact that we had, again unprecedented suicide killers on the loose on the streets of the capital. Everybody on that day, the whole of the Metropolitan Police Service set out to do its job and that is to protect the public. But it is clear to me that the officers of CO19 honestly thought they were going down that escalator and that they were going to encounter and have to deal with a suicide bomber and potentially that both they and everybody on that train might lose their lives.”

During 2007, CO19 were called out on 8000 separate occasions. They fired their guns a total of two times and three people were killed. C019 officer Graeme Carling feels CO19’s work only hits the headlines when they shoot someone dead, which he points out is a rare occurrence: “You read the papers and we’re getting branded as trigger happy and you look at how many times a firearm is discharged. If you get it wrong its pages and pages for weeks and weeks and months and months. Get it right and it’s no news.”

Nightclubs are often flashpoints for gun crime. In the Line of Fire follows C019’s F-Relief as they race to Streatham, South London to deal with three young men who have brazenly walked into a night-club with an Uzi submachine gun and pulled it on a busy dance-floor.

The series films a specialist CO19 operation called ‘Argon’ in December 2007 which is designed to stem the wave of nightclub shootings. In previous years there had been, on average, one shooting a day at nightclubs in London, over the Christmas period. Throughout the operation officers are placed outside London’s problem nightclubs while further officers are deployed to work on the inside, undercover. Dozens of armed officers are used to robustly stop and search known gang and gun criminals.

CO19’s Sergeant Matt Smith believes the tactic sends an important message to the gang members: “Effectively when they are on the streets with the gun and they are the only person with the gun then it is very easy for them to be brave. It’s a slightly different story when they are confronted with trained professionals who also have guns.”

Every day, somewhere in London, CO19 carry out three armed raids. Drawing their guns six times a day, they are forced to open fire, on average less than twice a year and take hundreds of firearms off the streets of London. In 2007 the police seized 4900 firearms across the UK. C019 officers show the programme a month’s stash of weapons seized on London’s streets. Alarmingly, amongst the 400 guns are several Kalashnikov machine guns and Mac 10 machine pistols.

With exclusive access to CO19 during one of the most demanding times to be policing London, In The Line Of Fire provides insight into the mindset of the officers charged with potentially putting their lives on the line at the beginning of every shift.

Twenty-one police officers were shot at by armed criminals in Britain in 2007. Sergeant Matt Smith says, “There are headstones with police officers names on them as a result of gang firearms, you cannot deny that fact. Let’s be perfectly honest about it we are a necessary evil. If I could choose, then I would live in a society where police officers don’t need guns. But unfortunately that society doesn’t exist in England, certainly doesn’t exist in London, therefore we have to be in a position to respond to the threat of people with firearms.”

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