A gun is seen or used on South Yorkshire’s streets every day – with drug dealers and gang members arming themselves as a ‘status symbol’ – firearms officers have warned.
However, despite South Yorkshire Police being alerted to sightings of firearms, the sound of gunfire and armed robberies on a daily basis, police chiefs stress actual shootings remain rare.
This year there have been 127 firearms attacks resulting in 36 injuries, one was fatal and three resulted in serious injuries.
Last year there were 123 attacks which resulted in one fatality and nine people being seriously injured.
South Yorkshire’s armed officers patrol the streets ready to respond to life-threatening incidents 24-hours a day. The specialist team also carries out pre-planned raids on criminals’ homes.
They say firearms are often passed from one criminal gang to another for the commission of specific offences, making them difficult to track down.
Chief Inspector Andy Male, of South Yorkshire Police’s firearms unit, said: “The access to firearms changes depending on what is happening nationally and internationally.
“The current trend involves replica or blank firing firearms coming into the country from the Eastern Bloc and getting reactivated over here.
“Some people are also targeting licenced gun holders to steal from them.
“There are a number of firearms which circulate between criminals groups – nobody owns them, but we try to disrupt that trade as much as we can.
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“Those who arm themselves don’t carry them all the time, so we rely on intelligence and information on people and look to stop them on a regular basis so they know we know about them. People carry guns to make themselves feel big and look big. They are not always real guns, yet they are frightening people and putting themselves and others in danger, because the assumption firearms officers have to have is that anyone with a gun has a real firearm. Until proven otherwise they have to assume it is a viable firearm.”
Inspector Tim Mitchell, of the firearms unit, said: “Every self-respecting drug dealer or gang member feels the need to have a firearm – they are seen as status symbols.”
Firearms officers are trained to shoot to kill if fearful for their lives or the safety of others, but no bullets have been fired by police on the county’s streets for more than 20 years.