Scotland politics

Police to review firearms policy

Police Scotland firearms officers Image copyright Police scotland
Image caption The policy on the carrying of firearms by police officers in Scotland has been controversial

The controversial policy allowing police firearms officers to routinely carry guns will be reviewed by the national force, the BBC has learned.

Police Scotland said trained firearms officers would continue to routinely carry weapons.

But it will recommend a review of the way handguns are carried, in the wake of concern from MSPs and councils.

Police Scotland has said 275 of its 17,000 officers routinely carried guns on duty.

The force is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will recommend a review of the way the handguns are carried, how visible they are and how and where firearms officers are deployed.

New ways of carrying the guns are expected to be discussed later in the year, while Police Scotland said the use of new holsters for Taser stun guns had been agreed, for safety reasons.

The policy on the carrying of firearms has proven controversial.

'Public protection'

Recommendations to continue their use but review how discreetly they can be carried and where such officers should work were sent to Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House last week for his agreement.

The moves were discussed at the latest quarterly meeting to address firearms issues from around the country.

Following the session, held on 16 September, a police source said: "At the meeting, it was agreed that a more discreet holster should be reviewed to reduce the visibility of the handguns and the yellow Tasers.

"But the recommendation was made by Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins to keep the standing order (allowing trained officers to routinely carry weapons)."

The source added: "The decision will be taken by the chief constable. It's important to remember almost every force in the UK has such a standing order and that it's about keeping the public safe."

The standing order, introduced in April 2013, means specially-trained officers can carry their weapons with them at all times while on duty, rather than having to return to an armed response vehicle or base to collect them for the purpose of attending firearms incidents.

The policy has been controversial, with opposition politicians describing the practice as "deeply disturbing for the public".

Street patrols

They have also criticised a "lack of transparency" in how senior police have dealt with the policy.

Police Scotland has said the policy allows firearms officers to attend incidents more quickly.

Those officers are routinely deployed to other duties, but that means they sometimes patrol high streets and shopping centres while carrying guns.

Earlier this week, local authority umbrella group Cosla opposed the policy of allowing police officers to carry guns while on routine patrol.

Councillors in the Highlands previously questioned the routine deployment of officers visibly carrying handguns in a region with low levels of violent crime.

Independent Highland MSP and former police officer John Finnie has also raised concerns about the rollout of the policy.

Monitoring group

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) are both currently conducting reviews of the practice.

HMIC is expected to report next month, with its recommendations likely to include references to the visibility of the firearms being carried by officers.

In a statement, Police Scotland said: "Police Scotland's armed policing monitoring group met on 16 September as part of its regular schedule of quarterly reviews for the standing firearms authority.

"Pending a decision, and in light of public concerns, we are committed to carrying out a review of the methods of carriage for firearms and Tasers and the deployment of armed officers.

"We welcome the reviews by HMICS and the Scottish Police Authority and we will consider carefully the findings of these reviews at our next quarterly review in January."

A Scottish government spokesperson, said: "Police Scotland, HMICS and SPA are all currently engaged in reviews of the policy on armed policing, which will between them take into account the views of the public and the wider community impact.

"These must be allowed to run their course."

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