Leaders: Armed police | Flight MH17

'House has so far appeared unconcerned by the adverse political and public reaction to the policy change'. Picture: Robert Perry
'House has so far appeared unconcerned by the adverse political and public reaction to the policy change'. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE idea of routinely armed police on the beat on the streets of Scotland may seem shocking but it is now a reality.

Where once firearms were kept under lock and key – even held in safes until their use was sanctioned – now they are routinely worn by officers. There is some controversy over this development.

The Scottish Labour Party has called for debate on the arming of officers, while Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander has demanded a meeting with the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Stephen House, to discuss the issue.

Some who oppose the routine arming of police claim that the very presence of guns makes any confrontation between officers and suspect potentially more dangerous. They raise concerns about the proportionality of the use of guns in specific incidents and point out that a suspect wrestling a firearm from an officer might have devastating consequences.

These are legitimate concerns but we must also consider the safety of officers and members of the public and have confidence in the professionalism and expertise of our police officers.

House is entitled to allow his trained firearms officers to carry pistols and it is right that he is in charge of operational matters free of political interference. He is probably right that this is a far more efficient use of the officers’ time. It is also right for Police Scotland to point out that there are 275 officers this applies to and the vast majority of officers in Scotland go about their business without firearms.

The Scottish Police Authority, the body charged with ensuring Police Scotland’s accountability, says it is confident that the practice of arming officers will remain limited to the trained few and that we will not see an extension of the practice. It is perfectly entitled to take that view and the actions it has.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has said it is an operational matter and lies correctly within the orbit of the chief constable.

House has so far appeared unconcerned by the adverse political and public reaction to the policy change. He has pointed out that this was a policy decision taken when Police Scotland formed in April last year. The fact that nobody had raised this as an issue with him until recently, said House , was significant.

But there is a fundamental error of judgment in all of this.

The public perception of policing in this country is that we are a nation that takes pride that our officers are not seen on the streets with guns on their hips. We know the police have guns, we know the police need guns, we see them at airports or attending VIPs or royalty or incidents. We get that.

Similarly, if we are reporting the theft of a lawnmower from the garden shed or complaining about other criminal behaviour we do not expect police to turn up wearing guns. That is a major shift in how we see the police force. If they are going to do so then it is going to be the subject of discussion and it is reasonable to suppose alarm in some quarters.

The surprise and big worry is that no-one either saw or cared about the sensitivity of this, and no-one saw the merit of bringing the public along with them. Police Scotland should have taken the initiative and publicised it, put it out there so arguments can be made. Instead it was pictures of police on the streets that they had to respond to, which makes it look like a hidden agenda. Even if it isn’t. And then that error was compounded by the “we know what we’re doing” tone when responding to concerns.

It is right that this should be debated in parliament. Even if the police and those they are accountable to do not see this as major change they are failing to respect the public’s right to have concerns addressed.

Russia needs to examine its attitude and co-operate with investigators over flight MH17

When Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down on Thursday, killing all 298 people on board, Russian President Vladimir Putin was swift to blame Ukraine.

As the prime suspects were – and continue to be – Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian forces, Putin wanted to muddy the waters.

This attempt to sow confusion is a strategy that Russia continues to follow. Pro-Russian separatists – funded by Moscow – are now accused of trying to destroy evidence of an international crime. Early reports that black box recorders had been found and taken to Moscow were later denied by Russian separatists who now insist that they remain undiscovered.

There are reports, too, that militia loyal to

Putin have moved bodies from the crash site. And, even as Russian officials called for investigators to be allowed access to the scene, monitors from the Organisation for Security and Coo-peration in Europe (OSCE) had their movements restricted by gunmen loyal to Moscow.

Russia’s version of events is that the airliner was brought down by a Ukrainian jet. Ukraine claims that rebels using ground-to-air missile firing systems provided by Putin’s regime are to blame.

While Russia – and the former Soviet Union – may once have felt free to lie with impunity, this is no longer the case. Investigators must be allowed full access to ensure the truth will out.

The response from Russia suggests panic in the Kremlin over the attack, which may have been carried out in error. Russia has been contradictory, by turns conciliatory and aggressive, offering co-operation then thwarting the work of investigators.

Hundreds of families are bereaved following a senseless act of violence against innocent civilians of many nations. And the more that Russia frustrates efforts to find out why, the more isolated it will become. There is a major difference between the old-style Cold War calculated misinformation and propaganda that Russia is so adept at and an act of aggression that has killed 298 citizens. The governments charged with the protection of those citizens will be determined in their pursuit of justice, and Russia has to understand this and act as a true member of the international community.