Opposition to armed officers based on 'sentiment'

Public opposition to armed policing is based on 'sentiment' and a lack of understanding of the dangers faced by frontline officers, police officers have claimed.

Police Scotland has recently increased its number of armed officers

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said its members are increasingly required to respond to “extremely violent incidents with inadequate protection”.

Writing in The Scotsman today, SPF general secretary Calum Steele calls for a national debate on the number of officers carrying guns.

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He said Police Scotland had “alienated” the public by displaying heavily armed officers following recent terror attacks.

Police Scotland has around 600 trained Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) officers, although only around 400 are full-time firearms officers.

The numbers were increased last year following the Paris terror attacks and amid criticism from the SPF that Scotland was “woefully under-equipped, under-resourced and under prepared” to deal with a similar incident.

The debate over armed policing was re-ignited in March when Khalid Masood murdered five people, including Pc Keith Palmer, during an attack in Westminster.

The SPF has called for more armed officers to deal not just with counter-terrorism, but armed incidents where unarmed officers are often the first on the scene.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson has previously said the public does not support a fully armed service, but Chief Constable Phil Gormley has said the overall number of firearms officers will be kept under review.

Mr Steele said: “Ask any member of the public if they believe the police should be properly equipped to protect themselves and others from harm, and it’s difficult to imagine you would find any dissent.

“Ask if the police should be armed, and reactions are likely to be altogether more emotive and driven by sentiment or ideology.

“This is perhaps understandable when the police service itself paints a picture that its armed officers are balaclava-clad, machine gun-toting, sniper suit-wearing commandos. The truth is

Scotland has some of the very best firearms and specialist officers anywhere but portrayal of this macho imagery alienates rather than reassures the public.”

Following the Westminster attack in March, Police Scotland put on a show of strength at a shooting range in Jackton near East Kilbride.

The event was timed to clash with a SPF debate on armed policing at the organisation’s conference.

Mr Steele added: “Police officers are not expendable but day in and day out they are exposed to extreme violence whilst the service worries about reputational sensitivities more than it does the danger it exposes its officers to.

“Too many police officers have suffered life-altering and career-ending injuries as a consequence of being expected to wade in to extremely violent incidents with inadequate protection.

“Murders, gang fights, beatings, stabbings, robberies are frighteningly common and yet time and again these events take place without thought of deploying our more specialist assets.”

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “Police Scotland is an unarmed service with an armed capability, which is proportionate in UK terms and ensures we offer the right level of protection to our communities.

“As we advised last year, We are currently in the process of increasing our ARV capability by some 90 officers and this will be complete in the very near future and there are no plans to increase that number further.”

“These additional ARVs are being deployed in key locations, while specialist firearms capability is enhanced and resources identified to boost training requirements.”