Armed police officers will no longer attend non-firearms-related incidents, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland announced this week.
Sir Stephen House confirmed that the controversial policy, in place across the country since the creation of Police Scotland in April 2013, will be changed. The move was welcomed by Highland MSP John Finnie, who was the first to raise concerns about armed officers in April of this year.
The chief constable said yesterday (Wednesday) that, having listened to local politicians and members of the public, he had decided that “firearms officers attached to Armed Response Vehicles will now only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life”.
Previously, armed officers had attended non-firearms-related incidents. That has ceased with immediate effect, a Police Scotland spokesman said.
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, of the crime and operational support division, 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 per cent of our officers remain unarmed but we remain best placed to support the public when the need arises. The public would expect nothing less.
“The threat of firearms and other serious criminality does not discriminate between the city or the town and the rural community or indeed the Highlands and the Borders. Just last week our armed officers were deployed to a number of high-profile incidents that occurred in 10 out of our 14 local policing divisions including those believed to be the most remote and the safest across Scotland.”
Mr Finnie welcomed the fact that Police Scotland had “responded to legitimate public concerns” about armed officers walking about our towns and villages, and changed their firearms policy.
He 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.
“The Scottish Police Authority and the HMICS are still inquiring into police firearms deployment and I urge everyone who is concerned about this to contribute to the SPA consultation.
“We still need to understand how this significant change, thankfully reversed, happened in the first place.
“In the meantime, credit to Police Scotland for getting their guns off our streets.”
The announcement was also welcomed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
North Lanarkshire councillor Harry McGuigan, COSLA’s spokesperson for community well-being said: “I congratulate Police Scotland on its decision to listen to the concerns of our communities over armed policing. While COSLA recognises the need for police to respond to incidents or situations with an armed capability, if we are to maintain good relations between the police and our communities it cannot be right to have police officers routinely carrying firearms.
“Very importantly, this matter has highlighted the need for Police Scotland to hold themselves accountable to our communities through their elected representatives. Policing by consent is vital in a vibrant democracy. The creation of the single Scottish Police Force has reduced the ability of councillors to influence strategic decisions affecting local policing. The lines of accountability between Police Scotland and local communities need to be clearer and stronger. I look forward to continued constructive dialogue with Police Scotland to avoid similar controversies arising in the future.”