POLICE Scotland spent more than £70,000 on new weapons in the last financial year at a time the force is coming under scrutiny over its decision to allow officers on routine patrol to carry handguns.
A Freedom of Information request by Scotland on Sunday revealed a figure of £76,535 for 2013-14 which is less than the previous figure of £81,647 spent on firearms in 2012-13 by the regional forces before the inception of a centralised force in April 2013.
It is thought that weapons required for major events this year, such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup were included in the 2013 figures, which explains the higher cost. The decision to arm police officers with Glock 17 semi-automatic pistols has come under fire from all quarters, with the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) gathering evidence and asking the public to give their opinion as part of a review of the force’s policy.
Strathclyde Police, Tayside Police and Northern Constabulary allowed specialist officers to carry guns routinely before the creation of the new single force.
Police Scotland has said that it has 275 firearms officers – 1.6 per cent of the force’s personnel – and they are deployed on a shift pattern basis. These specialist officers carry a Taser stun gun and a holstered handgun.
Shadow Cabinet justice secretary, Graeme Pearson, said the SPA call for public opinion was “poorly focused” and accused justice secretary Kenny MacAskill of having “shown a dereliction of his duties”.
He said: “Given the police commitment to firearms across Scotland I can understand the sums spent on equipment. I do hope, however, the Scottish Police Authority has properly accounted for the spend this year to ensure best value.”
Recent reports indicated a late ammunitions order in preparation for the Commonwealth Games resulted in premium prices being applied to 40,000 rounds of ammunition. The additional costs involved were disappointing, Pearson said. He added: “The issue, however, around police carrying guns whilst engaged on routine duties goes to the very heart of what it is to police in Scotland.
“The recent SPA call for opinions from the public in the light of considerable concerns raised across Scotland is too late, poorly focused and a deflection from that main issue –what is a police authority for if it is not there to challenge a chief constable on his proposals to ensure the options being considered are appropriate?
“SPA silence on this issue and the stop and search controversy is not only shocking but embarrassing.
“Mr MacAskill’s inactivity in light of the SPA’s shortcomings is a dereliction of his duties as a government minister.”
Police Scotland and the Scottish Government have defended the decision to arm officers. A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: “The deployment and equipping of police officers is an operational decision for the chief constable of Police Scotland. Scrutiny of Police Scotland is in place through the statutory role of the Scottish Police Authority as well as the Police Investigations and Review commissioner and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland.”
Chief Superintendent Elaine Ferguson said: “Police Scotland spending on weapons and ammunition is proportionate and appropriate to respond to the national threat assessment and to support local police commanders to keep people, places and communities safe.”