Poll shows Scots support for armed police officers

Police Scotland 'underestimated' the impact of arming some officers. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Police Scotland 'underestimated' the impact of arming some officers. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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A MAJORITY of Scots back the controversial deployment of armed officers on routine patrols, according to a poll carried out on behalf of the Scottish Police ­Authority (SPA).

The watchdog’s survey found 53 per cent of respondents supported Police Scotland’s policy of allowing a small number of officers to carry sidearms on everyday duties.

However, the SPA said the force had “underestimated” the impact of the decision, which marked a “significant change” in policing in many parts of the country.

More than 200 armed officers were 
deployed on routine patrols under a “standing authority” issued by Chief Constable Sir Stephen House when Police Scotland was formed in 2013.

After criticism, the force said last year that armed officers would be sent to incidents only where there was a risk to life.

Yesterday, the SPA said there had been an “absence of a proactive communications and engagement strategy on armed policing ahead of implementation in 2013”.

However, its survey of more than 1,000 people, carried out by TNS UK, found that public concern was less widespread than had been initially thought.

Just over half of respondents (53 per cent) backed the policy, while a “significant minority” (37 per cent) opposed it. Nearly one in three respondents ­expressed an increase in confidence in Police Scotland.

SPA member Iain Whyte said: ­“Recent international events have thrown into sharp focus the pivotal role that an armed policing capability provides, and the views we have gathered provide reassurance about the levels of confidence the Scottish public have in our armed police officers and the contribution they make.”

He added: “But our findings also clearly demonstrate the mixed and divergent views that the issue of deployment to more routine calls and incidents generated among some areas and some sectors of society.

“That is one of the key lessons our findings and recommendations seek to learn from and address. Scotland is a diverse country and both Police Scotland and the SPA must consider the diversity of views, experiences and perspectives which exist within its geography and people.”

Mr Whyte said the issue had raised public questions about “the effectiveness of accountability and governance”.

The SPA report made a number of recommendations, including calling on police to engage with the watchdog and the public before making any further “non-time-critical” adjustments to its policy on firearms. It also called on the force to consult the watchdog before any decision likely to have a “significant public ­impact”.

There was criticism of the SPA’s effectiveness last year when it emerged it had not been consulted by the police prior to the issuing of the standing ­authority. The watchdog’s chairman, Vic Emery, complained to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee that his organisation had been told only “after the fact”.

Police Scotland is considering equipping officers with concealed holsters rather than visible sidearms, but the SPA warned this may not allay concerns among the public. The force is also looking into equipping officers with body cameras, and its pledge to consult the public before taking a decision was welcomed by the SPA.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said of the SPA report: “We particularly welcome the findings that public confidence in policing has remained high throughout.

“As announced last year, we are reviewing the carriage systems for weapons used by armed officers and the functions they perform when they are not dealing with firearms incidents.

“The differences in specialist firearms protection to communities, and unarmed officers, prior to the creation of Police Scotland were inconsistent and inadequate, given the evidence and intelligence available.

“By having a small number of specially trained firearms officers available 24/7, we can ensure that all our communities have equal access to this specialist police ­capability.”

The findings of the SPA inquiry echo those of an investigation carried out by the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) last year.

That investigation backed Police Scotland’s decision to allow armed officers to be deployed on routine patrol but criticised the force for failing to consider the public’s reaction.

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes described the SPA findings yesterday as “a victory for local communities”.

She said: “There will be no routinely armed police in Scotland. This illiberal action was made worse by the manner in which it was foisted upon communities. It is now evidently clear that the SNP government’s rush to introduce a national police force contributed to these significant failings.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the [SPA] report, which complements the findings from the earlier HMICS report into armed policing. Both reports make recommendations for Police Scotland and the SPA which will ensure the deployment of armed officers continues to be appropriate and proportionate.”

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• {http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/police-scotland-u-turn-on-armed-police-patrols-1-3559413 |Police Scotland U-turn on armed police patrols|Link to article}

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