Iain Livingstone: Armed officers serve a purpose

Majority of officers do their job without a firearm. Picture: John Devlin
Majority of officers do their job without a firearm. Picture: John Devlin
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POLICING in Scotland today requires a round-the-clock response. In the first two years of Police Scotland, we responded to 3.2 million incidents – highlighting the sheer scale of the demand placed on our service.

Keeping people safe means we need to have a wide range of resources available to respond when and where needed.

Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) officers work in support of local policing throughout our communities and provide a highly-specialised firearms response when the need arises.

I want to be very clear: these officers are only proactively deployed by control rooms to incidents which require a specialist response – those involving firearms or threat to life.

However, who in Scotland would not agree with me that they are police officers first and foremost. And as police officers they will come across incidents during which they will use their own professional judgment and discretion to respond.

Since October last year, and the implementation of our revised approach to their deployment, ARV officers dealt with 1,644 incidents; incidents that were happening as they were out in patrol cars; incidents which they couldn’t as professional police officers drive on past.

In February, in a remote part of Dalbeattie Forest, Dumfries, a woman who had fallen and suffered a serious injury after a mountain bike fall was recovered by ARV officers who used the 4x4 capability of their vehicle and their first aid skills as the nearest responders to the incident.

In January in Edinburgh, armed res­ponse vehicle officers stopped at traffic lights recognised a stolen car whose details had been circulated. They prevented the vehicle from moving and detained two suspects for vehicle theft, drink driving and housebreaking.

In Inverness in January, a member of the public flagged down a passing ARV and alerted them to a woman who was threatening to jump from the top of a building. After speaking to the woman, the officer offered her a jacket and in doing so managed to grab her and take her to safety.

In Glasgow in November last year, ARV officers watched a vehicle on the M8 being driven in a manner which caused them to stop it. The driver was found to be almost three times over the drink drive limit and stopped before he caused harm to others.

These are just some of the many examples of positive steps by armed officers on patrol to keep people safe. Officers involved in these incidents were not despatched to attend – they responded to incidents they came upon in a proportionate and professional manner.

Only a small number of our officers – 268 at present – are ARV officers and they serve to protect their unarmed colleagues. The vast majority of more than 17,000 officers serving Police Scotland carry out their duties without the need to carry a weapon.

ARV officers are highly trained to provide a specialist, fast-response firearms capability to deal with those incidents which can occur at any time and any place involving weapons or threat to life. They protect communities against threats from serious and organised crime and terrorism. They protect the public from the threat posed by weapons of all kinds.

All communities have equal access to the skills held by these officers – something which prior to the introduction of the single police service in Scotland in April 2013, did not exist with any degree of consistency.

In recent months, we have seen the devastation caused by terrorism in Paris and Copenhagen. Scotland is not immune to that threat; in addition, we live with the threat posed to communities from serious and organised crime, including groups which have access to firearms.

The threat is real. We respond in a number of ways, including having ready access to a small number of police officers who can provide a spec­ialist response when needed. I think most people in Scotland are glad of that.


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