'No consultation' on Police Scotland firearms policy

Police Scotland firearms officers Two reviews of the new firearms policy are currently being carried out

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The chief constable did not consult his civilian watchdog before putting armed officers on routine patrol across Scotland, MSPs have heard.

The appearance of armed officers on the streets has been criticised by some politicians and community leaders.

The chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) told a Holyrood committee he was only briefed on the decision two months after it was made.

The SPA was established to hold the chief constable to account.

Its chairman, Vic Emery, told Holyrood's Justice Sub-Committee on Policing that the SPA was only informed of the armed officer policy in a single line in a comprehensive statement of readiness two weeks before the eight regional forces were merged on 1 April 2013.

Mr Emery said he was not personally consulted in advance, and was only briefed on the matter at a public meeting two months after the armed officers were deployed.

Security clearance

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House did discuss the matter with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in advance, but Mr Emery was not briefed by either individual, the MSPs heard.

Mr Emery, who has deep security clearance, said it was not satisfactory to be consulted on such matters after the fact.

The SPA will now try to persuade Police Scotland to be more forthcoming in the future, he said.

Mr Emery said: "The scrutiny role that we have is pretty much after the fact, and that is not really my view of governance and I think I have expressed that to this committee various times when we have met previously.

"We need to move on to a situation where we are consulted in advance of policy decisions being made, rather than simply scrutinising those decisions after the fact, and I acknowledge that."

He added: "We have had a growing improvement in our relationship with the police and this is a matter of persuading the police that they need to come forward and consult with the board, particularly on how decisions are communicated amongst the community before those decisions are made.

"We are maturing that relationship. We need to mature that because the act can be literally interpreted as being a scrutiny after the fact, and that is not a satisfactory situation."

'Complete control'

A Police Scotland statement of operational readiness, produced on 15 March 2013, states: "Work is well under way and on track in terms of armed policing provision for day one when a standing authority for armed response vehicles, tactical firearms unit, airport coverage and other policing operations will be implemented."

Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell, who sits on the sub-committee, said: "This decision has been taken by one individual under what he has referred to as operational.

"His competence and his complete control over that, and the lack of checks and balances over that, is the thing that we are now hearing from Mr Emery is highly unsatisfactory to be informed of something as high profile and dynamic as this after the event."

Police Scotland has 275 specialist firearms officers out of its total strength of more than 17,000.

The decision to have armed officers available in every police division was made after the merger of Scotland's eight regional forces.

Reviews of the policy are being carried out by the SPA and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland.

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