SCOTLAND’S police watchdog has expressed frustration at only being able to scrutinise operational changes “after the fact”, on the issue of guns.
Vic Emery, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), told MSPs that the chief constable of Police Scotland could effectively take decisions – including routinely arming a small number of officers – without any oversight.
Concerns have been raised following Chief Constable Sir Stephen House’s decision to allow some of his officers to carry sidearms in public.
Mr Emery told the Scottish Parliament’s justice sub-committee that the chief constable did not consult the civilian watchdog before taking the decision to put armed officers on patrol.
He said the only notification came in one sentence of a statement on the force’s operational readiness, which the SPA got in March or April last year.
A civilian board set up to oversee Police Scotland, the SPA last week announced plans to carry out an inquiry into the force’s use of firearms amid growing public disquiet.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland will undertake a separate review.
Mr Emery told the committee that the 2012 Scottish Parliament act establishing the single police force gave the chief constable “operational independence from any political interference”.
He said: “The scrutiny role that we have is pretty much after the fact, and that is not really my view of governance. “We need to move on to a situation where we are consulted in advance.”
Mr Emery said he was the only member of the SPA board to have been “deep vetted”, allowing the police to make him privy to ongoing operations.
Police Scotland has repeatedly defended the need for some officers to carry guns. However, armed officers have been seen at routine incidents, including last month when they attended a minor altercation at a McDonald’s in Inverness.
Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell said the decision to arm officers had been taken by “one individual”, the chief constable.
She said: “The thing that we are now hearing from Mr Emery is highly unsatisfactory – to be informed of something as high profile and dynamic as this after the event.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “The standing firearms authority was one of a number of operational issues of which the SPA was informed ahead of Police Scotland coming into operation.”