The number of armed police in Leicestershire has fallen to its lowest level in a decade, despite an increase in operations requiring an armed response.
According to the latest figures from the Home Office, Leicestershire Police conducted 285 armed response operations in the 12 months to March 2018.
This was an increase of 24% from the previous year, when armed officers attended 229 operations, and an increase of 85% from five years ago.
At the same time, however, the number of armed officers in the force fell to 55 in 2018 - the lowest level since current records began a decade ago.
Armed officer numbers were at their highest level in Leicestershire in 2012, at 78 officers.
Police forces across the country have seen an “explosion” in violent crime over the past year, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales.
This has led to armed police being routinely called to violent incidents, with officers tending to “assume the worst”.
However, a spokeswoman for the Police Federation explained that many forces have been left struggling to recruit enough armed police in recent years.
Some of them, she continued, have also found their existing officers being lured away by the promise of higher salaries in forces such as the Metropolitan Police, which have been on a recruitment drive.
The Home Office figures show that more than a third of police forces in England and Wales saw a reduction in the number of armed officers in their ranks over the last year.
Almost all of these forces recorded a rise in armed police operations over the same period, meaning fewer officers had to attend more calls.
Across England and Wales, the number of armed police operations in the year to March reached 18,746 - the highest number since 2010-11.
Ché Donald, Vice Chair and Firearms Lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “There has been an explosion in violent crime over the past year, with knife crime up by 16%, murders by 12% and gun crime by 2%.
“In this current climate, if officers are called to a violent incident the preferred option is to deploy properly-trained firearms officers to contain the situation.
“All this is set against a backdrop of increased awareness because of recent terrorist events, such as the London Bridge attack and Manchester Arena.
“As a result, there has also been a heightened presence of firearms officers at events and public gatherings around the country to ensure people are kept safe.
“Police discharges of firearms remain consistently low, which reflects the high standard of training our officers receive, and they only discharge their firearms in circumstances where there is a high risk of injury to the public or the officers themselves.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for armed policing, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, agreed that there had been “a number of challenges” in recruiting sufficient firearms officers but that there had been a significant increase nonetheless.
The country’s police, he added, were “ready to respond”.
A spokesman for the Home Office said that the Government is providing £144 million to increase the numbers and capacity of armed police.
He continued: “The policy in this country has long been that the police should not generally be armed and the number of police operations where firearms are discharged remains low.
“It is for Chief Officers to determine the number of armed officers in their areas.
“The total number of armed officers has risen over the past year, which likely reflects our investment in the armed policing uplift programme.”