Armed police walk amongst shoppers along Oxford Street in London, Britain, in this file photograph dated December 23, 2015. London police said on January 14, 2016 they will increase the number of officers carrying firearms in the largely unarmed force by around a quarter to 2,800 in the wake of the Paris attacks. Reuters Photo

LONDON: London’s Metropolitan Police force is to increase its number of firearms officers by 27 percent following the Paris attacks, its chief announced Thursday.

Scotland Yard is to train another 600 armed officers, taking the total number to 2,800, Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said.

British police do not routinely carry weapons, although armed officers do protect sensitive sites and all forces have armed response units.

“The tragic attacks in Paris reinforced the vital role that firearms officers would be called upon to play on behalf of all of us, to run forward and confront the deadly threat that such attackers would pose,” said Hogan-Howe, announcing the move.

“This increase will more than double the number of armed response vehicles on our streets and grow a highly trained specialist part of our capability.

“This is because we know that the threat we currently face is likely to be a spontaneous attack that requires a fast response to deal with it.”

The number of available armed response vehicles was increased following the attacks in Paris on November 13 which left 130 dead and 350 wounded. The number of armed officers is now set to increase.

Britain’s current national terror threat level has been set at severe since August 2014, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.

Britain is proud of being one of few countries where police usually do not carry guns, leading to an image abroad of “bobbies on the beat” wearing tall hats and carrying little more than a truncheon and handcuffs.

It is rare for officers to discharge their weapons.

“It will not change the fundamental principle that police in this country are not routinely armed, which we are rightly proud of,” said Hogan-Howe.

“Still, around 92 percent of the Met will be unarmed.”

Scotland Yard has around 31,000 police officers.

“It will be an expensive option, but is vital to keeping us safe,” said Hogan-Howe.

Britain’s top police officer said Wednesday he is meeting with armed officers every two weeks in a bid to maintain morale, after he raised concerns that marksmen should have greater protection following a fatal shooting.

This followed the death of a man during a police operation to stop an alleged prison break in north London in December.

Prime Minister David Cameron is considering legal changes to make it more difficult to prosecute police marksmen who shoot terrorists. --AFP

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