Armed police fired shots in a busy street to force a van carrying three suspects to stop, a force spokeswoman said.
Officers arrested three men at around 5.30pm yesterday in Darlington on suspicion of firearms offences.
The shots were fired as part of an officially approved "enforced stop" technique, Durham Police said. It was not clear if the van's tyres were shot out but it was understood that was the intention.
No-one was injured in the incident in Yarm Road.
The men aged 30, 22 and 19 who are from separate locations across the North East, are currently in custody at police stations across the force area where they are helping police with their inquiries.
Chief Superintendent Graham Hall from Darlington said: "The incident was dealt with swiftly and safely and no one was injured.
"The men were quickly arrested and are now in custody helping us with our inquiries.
"It is normal procedure for armed officers to be deployed to incidents of this nature and there is no need for alarm.
"Fortunately incidents like this are rare and I would like to reassure the community of Darlington and in particular the residents of Yarm Road that this is an isolated incident."
A force spokeswoman said: "There were some shots fired to bring the vehicle to a halt."
Witnesses reported hearing shots fired and after the van was forced to stop, people saw police holding machine guns make the suspects lie on the ground to be handcuffed.
Yarm Road is one of the busiest roads heading east out of Darlington town centre.