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28 October 2014
Firearms decision by police backed

Firearms decision by police backed

A decision by Police Scotland to allow a small number of officers to routinely carry side arms has been backed by inspectors.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) found the decision by Police Scotland was justified by national intelligence and threat levels. 

Overt carriage of a hand gun and Taser by armed response vehicle officers is the “best and safest method of carriage” for officers crewing an armed response vehicle (ARV), acknowledged inspectors.

However, HMICS said the single force has “underestimated” the community impact of allowing armed officers to attend non-firearms-related incidents and could have done more to address local concerns.

“Police Scotland has not effectively communicated the impact of its policy decision to implement a national standing authority for ARV crews, nor ensured the SPA fully understood the implications,” said the report, albeit attributing much of this to the pace of change involved in merging eight forces.

Inspectors claimed ARV officers can make a “positive contribution to local policing” and ought to support local officers by attending “appropriate” non-firearms-related incidents, necessitating deployment criteria that is understood and accepted by local communities.

HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Derek Penman, said: “We have made a number of recommendations for improvement with the aim of strengthening public confidence in Scottish policing through better communication, consultation and scrutiny at all levels - with the Scottish Police Authority, local authorities, general public and within policing.

“There needs to be a clear understanding of, and local discussions about, how these firearms officers can be used to support local policing in their communities at times when they are not responding to firearms incidents.

“Although the decision to grant a standing authority is an operational decision for the Chief Constable, he remains accountable for that decision to the Scottish Police Authority.

“We have made a recommendation that the Scottish Police Authority should engage with Police Scotland and other bodies to consider the concept of ‘operational responsibility’ and develop a shared understanding over roles, responsibilities and boundaries. This should include mechanisms to capture local authority perspectives.”

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable for Operational Support, Bernard Higgins, said: “We have a fundamental duty to protect life and keep people safe. The operational decision making process around the use of armed officers is one that is informed by a range of evidence and intelligence and adheres to guidance set for all police forces throughout the UK.

“Having a small number of armed police officers available means we can retain our operational flexibility and ensure that more than 98% of our officers remain unarmed but we remain best placed to support the public, no matter where or when. The public would expect nothing less.

“We have already committed to reviewing our guidance to armed officers when not deployed to firearms incidents and on the types of carriage for firearms and tasers and we are also reviewing how we can improve our engagement with communities. We will carefully consider the findings of the HMICS report as part of this work.”

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