HAMPSHIRE Constabulary has apologised for taking too long to renew firearms certificates in the county.
A Freedom of Information Act request has revealed it took the force five months to renew 13,000 certificates last year.
This is compared to Thames Valley Police, which took 25 working days, Surrey Police took 30 days and Wiltshire Police also took 30 days.
The force has issued an apology and said the delay was due to the way the renewals were being processed in the office.
Ann Wakefield, of Hampshire Constabulary, said: ‘The figure is an average annual figure for the whole of 2012.
‘We started our review in June last year when we realised we had a problem.
‘There were two issues, one is our processes within the office and the way we operated.
‘We were extremely bureaucratic and managed to build in lots of extra processes that made it far less streamlined than it could be and it needs digitalising as well.
‘We need to become a lot more electronic than we were.
‘And the second is our methods of risk assessment. It is an extremely important part of the process and there is a very clear process to follow, but what we were doing was we had the risk aversion for every single applicant.
‘Now 85 to 90 per cent of our applicants are people like gamekeepers, they have been with us for years, we have known them for years and we have no worries about them operating a certificate.
‘We don’t need to put them through the longer version of the process. A member of the public, who let’s say has come to our attention for domestic violence several times needs to be put through a more rigorous process.
‘And we’re splitting those out now and becoming more proportionate I hope in the way we operate.’
The force says its backlog has now been cleared and public safety had never been at risk.
‘Now the backlog has gone and I can reassure people that now we are in good shape,’ added Ms Wakefield.
‘The public have not been put at risk by the situation we’ve been in.
‘We are as keen as any member of the public to make sure this process is safe for obvious reasons.
‘We don’t want people with a weapon out there who are a risk.
‘The reason for that is two-fold. The vast majority of firearms and certificate holders are law-abiding, good, honest people, who tend to either need it for their job or they have a hobby or target shooting.
‘They are the people who put in for a renewal and they are the ones we’ve upset by not renewing.
‘The ones we should be interested in are the ones who haven’t put in for their renewal and we watch them like a hawk.
They wouldn’t slip through the net.’
According to the force’s website, reminders are sent out to renew certificates eight weeks before expiry and takes around 16 weeks to complete.