Scotland politics

Police Scotland changes policy on armed officers

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

Specialist armed police officers in Scotland will in future only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.

The move came following concerns from politicians about officers carrying weapons while on routine patrol.

Opposition parties described the move as a U-turn.

However Police Scotland said the standing order allowing the deployment of officers with handguns and Taser stun guns would continue.

The "national standing firearms authority", in place since April 2013, allows a limited number of trained armed response vehicle officers to deploy with side arms and Tasers across Scotland.

Councillors in the Borders and Highlands have voiced concern, as well as opposition MSPs.

Analysis: Reevel Alderson, BBC Scotland home affairs correspondent.

Many will see this as a U-turn.

Last year, Police Scotland rolled out a policy to allow firearms officers to carry handguns with them at all times while on duty rather than getting kitted up to deal with specific incidents.

It proved controversial, with photos emerging of police wearing guns in shopping centres and rural areas.

But today they've announced that officers attached to armed response vehicles will now only be used for specific incidents or if there is a threat to life.

And - as the BBC revealed yesterday - Police Scotland will review the types of holsters used to carry the handguns.

But despite criticism from local authorities and MSPs, police will continue the "standing order" which allows firearms officers to carry weapons routinely.

Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said the "national standing firearms authority" would remain in place, but issued directions on how officers are deployed after listening to the concerns of politicians and members of the public.

The national force has also set up a working group, to report in January 2015, which will review how handguns and Tasers are carried, as well as how armed response vehicle officers are used when not deployed to firearm incidents.

Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, said: "Protecting the public and ensuring that all communities have the same access to specialist policing support, no matter where or when they need it, is at the heart of this decision.

"We have balanced our overriding duty to keep people safe with consideration of the views expressed about the perception of armed officers supporting local policing activities.

"Having a small number of armed police officers available means we can retain our operational flexibility and ensure that more than 98% of our officers remain unarmed, but we remain best placed to support the public when the need arises. The public would expect nothing less."

Policy reviews

Mr Livingstone added: "The chief constable recognised the concerns expressed about the deployment of armed officers.

"As an organisation we acknowledge the local feeling from politicians and some members of the public, as evidenced by the feedback from several local authorities.

"We have listened to those concerns and this has resulted in the chief constable's announcement today."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said armed officers are a "long-standing feature" of policing in Scotland, but it was for the chief constable to make operational decisions about where and when to deploy them.

He added: "The Scottish government welcomes the findings of the quarterly review of the standing firearms authority, which Police Scotland believes balances public safety while taking into account the views of local communities across Scotland.

"Ministers have noted the commitment to deploy armed officers only to firearms incidents or cases where there is a threat to life.

"We welcome Police Scotland's commitment to regularly review their policy on the deployment of armed officers, which will take into account factors such as current threat levels."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Stephen House, the chief constable of Police Scotland, said the force had listened to the concerns of politicians and the public

Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, a former senior police office, said: "I welcome the change of heart reflected in Police Scotland's announcement and I know that local communities across Scotland will be pleased at the review."

Independent Highland MSP John Finnie, who also served as a police officer, added: "It is a great relief that armed police officers will no longer be seen on our streets dealing with routine police business as this was having a negative impact on community relations."

Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes, whose party consistently asked questions over the firearms policy, added: "This U-turn is a win for the many local communities across Scotland who were alarmed by this undemocratic and fundamental change in policing approach."

Police Scotland said 275 officers - less than 2% of the force - were currently attached to armed response vehicles, which it said was proportionate and necessary to keep people safe.

The force also said it would carefully consider the findings of firearms policy reviews currently being carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

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