Northumbria police criticised over 'smiling' armed officers
Images posted on social media of armed officers smiling and posing with members of the public have attracted thousands of comments, many critical.
In November Northumbria police announced increased numbers of firearms officers on patrol, and invited people with concerns to "chat" with them.
Critics said they did not want to see armed officers at Christmas events and it made people feel uncomfortable
A force spokesman said the officers were there to "protect and reassure".
Thousands of people responded to the pictures on Facebook and Twitter of the officers at the Christmas market in Newcastle City Centre.
Comments included: "Please keep your guns away from our children."
"Armed police does everything but 'reassure' the public, it makes us really uncomfortable. This isn't the states!"
"I do not want to live in a country where it's a daily occurrence to see armed police with semi automatic weapons patrolling our streets and our Xmas events."
"Obviously we would prefer it if it weren't necessary, but it is ... and ... makes me and my family feel safer."
"Has Santa been warned. No sudden movements or present giving."
Northumbria Police said it understood people might be concerned.
It said the armed officers were not there because of any specific threat or intelligence, but to reassure the public that the force was in a position to respond to any incident that did occur.
Supt Steve Neill said: "In terms of posing with children, that would be at the request of children or their parents or grandparents.
"What we are trying to say is that these are just police officers who happen to have a gun.
"Don't be alarmed, don't be scared, go and have a chat with them."
Northumbria was one of nine forces in England and Wales to be given Home Office funding to increase the number of trained firearms officers.