ARMED police officers carried out more than 15,000 stop-searches in the months before the decision to end their deployment to routine duties, it has emerged.
Figures obtained by The Scotsman show officers attached to Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs) undertook 15,208 of the controversial searches between April 2013 and October 2014, when Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said they would only be sent to firearms incidents or those where there was a threat to life.
Police Scotland said stop-search by ARV officers had been an “important tool” in keeping people safe, but critics said the figures were “shocking”.
According to the statistics, which were released under Freedom of Information legislation, the number of searches carried out by armed officers rose to a monthly high of 1,531 in May 2013 before steadily falling.
By October last year, the month the force reversed its decision on armed policing, the figure had fallen to just 49.
Figures released to MSPs by Police Scotland earlier this month showed there were a further 477 stop-searches by ARV officers between 1 October and 1 March.
Following growing controversy over the role of armed officers last year, the chief constable announced a U-turn which meant those carrying sidearms would only be deployed to incidents where there was a threat to life. However, officers have continued to use their own discretion to attend routine incidents such as traffic stops.
The force was embroiled in a further controversy surrounding its use of stop and search, particularly on young children.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said the latest figures were “truly shocking”.
She said: “While police stop and search figures are notoriously unreliable, it nonetheless suggests this damaging practice occurred on a very worrying scale prior to the policy change. It is safe to say that relatively few people would have the confidence to assert their rights if they were stopped and searched by an armed police officer.”
Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell added: “These figures revealing the number of ARV police officers involved in stop and search since the advent of a single police force are a cause for concern.
“However, it’s clear that the number of stop and searches carried out by these officers has declined up to October last year when the extent of public disquiet surrounding ARV officers attending routine incidents was revealed.”
A police spokesman said: “Chief Constable Sir Stephen House having listened to concerns expressed by politicians and some members of the public and having assessed the current operational challenges faced by Police Scotland, directed that firearms officers attached to Armed Response Vehicles will now only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.
“Prior to this, Armed Response Vehicle officers would have supported local policing duties and would have utilised stop and search powers as an important tool in keeping people safe.”