Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman Graeme Pearson MSP has hit out at Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill for trying to “slide away” from the issue of armed police routinely attending non-firearms-related incidents.
Mr Pearson is the latest critic of the policy, introduced with the formation of Police Scotland on 1st April 2013. It has also emerged that Northern Constabulary’s policy was changed one month before by Deputy Chief Constable Andrew Cowie.
“I find it irresponsible for Mr MacAskill to slide away from this issue,” Mr Pearson told the Free Press. “He is seldom so reticent. A policy decision enabling police officers to walk our streets on routine duties whilst armed with an automatic handgun is one that should have attracted the Scottish Police Authority’s attention after local discussions around the country to justify the need for change.
“We are at a 39-year-low in crime and thankfully gun crime is rare. Guns available in lockfast cabinets within the armed response vehicles in my view are sufficient capability. This is a matter that should not be allowed to pass with the cabinet secretary washing his hands of it describing the decision as an operational matter for the chief constable. Policing by consent means democratic accountability is necessary.”
In response, a spokeswoman for Mr MacAskill said: “Armed police officers have been a longstanding feature of policing in Scotland and it is for the Chief Constable to make operational decisions about where and when to deploy resources. Police Scotland has emphasised that it regularly reviews the use of standing firearms authority. The Scottish Police Authority is also keeping the issue under review.
“In the first year of Police Scotland, specialist firearms units attended more than 1,300 incidents across the whole of Scotland – including more than 100 in the Highlands. The approach taken by Police Scotland is an operational decision which allows officers to be deployed quickly in the event of any emergencies.
“Over 98 per cent of police remain unarmed with the small number of remaining officers, only 275 out of 17,244-strong workforce, working across the whole of Scotland. Armed officers are deployed on shift-pattern basis and, consequently, only a small number will be deployed across our communities at any one time.”
Meanwhile, David Thompson — the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch — has received a response to his letter on armed policing from Chief Constable Sir Stephen House.
Sir Stephen said that the standing firearms authority was subject to continual regular review and he had given undertakings that the concerns expressed by Highland politicians would be considered at the next review which takes place in September.
Mr Thompson said: “I welcome the undertaking to consider the views of politicians though I well understand that operational policing cannot be subject to regular political intervention.
“I also welcome the information that the next review of the standing firearms authority, given we are almost into August, is set for September. Finally, it is reassuring to know that only a small number of officers are armed at any one time, as the numbers specified equates to less than two per cent of the force.”
Sir Stephen also pointed out in his letter that the Armed Policing Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment was a sensitive and classified document and it would not be appropriate to make it public.