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Met Police wants more female firearm officers to address gender imbalance

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A drive to train more women as armed police officers is under way to address the gender imbalance in the Metropolitan Police's firearms units.

Sky News was given exclusive access to a recruitment day in Kent designed to show serving officers what life would be like as part of the team on an armed response vehicle.

It is seen as such a priority that the UK's most senior female counter-terrorism officer came to speak to potential applicants as the Met prepares to mark 100 years since women first joined the force.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner in Specialist Operations Lucy D'Orsi said: "We are definitely underrepresented with women officers in the firearms command so it has given us a healthy nudge to look to improve that."

Just over a quarter of the Met's officers are female, totalling 7,880.

But in the Specialist Firearms Command, known as MO19, there are only 63 women compared to 778 men. It is the equivalent of just 7.5%.

MO19 is the unit responsible for responding to spontaneous events such as terror attacks and is also involved in planned operations.

As well as getting to learn about and handle a Glock 17 handgun and MCX rifle, the potential applicants were taught specialist cuffing techniques and their fitness was tested using the notorious shuttle run "beep test".

To succeed they must reach level 9.4, a tough requirement which puts many women off.

But recruitment officer PC Faye McSweeney says it is all about mindset.

"These women can do anything, they just need to believe they can do it," she said.

And she added that the perception that it is a macho world is wrong.

"I think that's an image that's been portrayed but in reality it's not at all."

Ms D'Orsi believes that women bring "a difference in thinking and style" to a unit. Good communication skills and the ability to quickly assess risk and threat are vital, as well as working in a team.

Anna, a mother of two young boys who currently works as an emergency response officer in north London, knows what is at stake if she is selected.

"A lot of girls don't really want to carry guns," she said. "Not only to fire them and carry them but what they might have to use them for. I'm willing to step up to that challenge."

It takes physical and mental strength and also courage to succeed.

Those who make it will be asked to make split-second decisions that could mean the difference between life and death.
 

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