More than half of all Scottish police officers want access to handguns, according to new poll
More than half of all Scottish police officers have said they want to carry a handgun, according to a new poll.
The survey carried out for the Scottish Police Federation’s (SPF) magazine, 1919, found that 53.7 per cent of officers would want a sidearm as part of their protective safety equipment. The other 46.73 per cent told pollsters they didn’t want this at all.
Officers were also asked when they were last assaulted on duty, nearly two-thirds said they’ve been attacked in the past year.
The Scottish Government said their position on Police Scotland as an unarmed service would “not change.”
Federation chair, David Hamilton, said the survey revealed how “vulnerable” his members felt."
He said: “The survey shows that Police Scotland's own figures are just the tip of the iceberg. The public will be aghast that 22 per cent of our police officers have been assaulted on duty in the last three months.
“These are sons and daughters, mums and dads, each of whom has taken an oath to serve their communities and keep people safe, but communities have a duty to keep their officers safe too.”
Hamilton added: “Perhaps the biggest shock is that 53 per cent of our officers would like access to a handgun and a further seven per cent would be prepared to be trained in it if necessary.
“This demonstrates not just the frequency of attacks but the gravity of them too.
“Officers consider knives to be the greatest risk to them and firearms are the appropriate last defence to being attacked by such lethal weapons.”
Hamilton said the Norwegian model – where officers do not carry firearms but keep them routinely locked in their patrol cars in case they need them – “deserves to be considered”.
Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar said most ordinary police officers “would be horrified by this demand for guns.”
He told Holyrood: “It’s sickeningly clear that that SPF wants ‘militarisation’ but thankfully their leadership - who haven’t been beat cops for years - will never get to make that decision."
The lawyer raised the case of Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody in 2015. He was found to have 23 injuries after being restrained by officers.
Anwar who represents Bayoh’s family has long said race played a part in the man’s death and criticised the subsequent police investigation.
He said: “Multiple officers had no difficulty in bringing Sheku to the ground in less than 42 seconds, spraying him, batoned, covered with lacerations, bruises, he died in police custody - I do suppose under this logic a gun would have allowed the officers to shoot first and ask questions later. Not that there would be any chance of justice.”
Anwar added: “The fact that a police officer faces assault does not mean that it is acceptable for this country to arm all our police service with lethal weapons - after all out of the assaults how many are life-threatening? Thankfully they are minimal.”
Police Scotland Assitant Chief Council Mark Williams said there were “no plans to move away from being an unarmed service which has an armed capability.”
He added: “Being assaulted should never be part of the job and tackling the concerning trend of increasing assaults on officers and staff is a priority. The Chief Constable has underlined his commitment to achieving this goal by providing our people with the tools they need to do their jobs and he has also committed to continuing our focus on officer and staff safety.
“Recently, we have improved our infrastructure to support an enhanced roll-out of Taser and work is underway to uplift the number of Taser-trained officers by 1,500 over the next three years."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Police officers do a first-rate job in protecting the public and keeping us safe from harm, often putting themselves at risk to protect others.
“Police Scotland continues to be an unarmed service and our position on that will not change. There is an appropriate armed capability which includes an additional deployment of Specially Trained Officers (STOs) in the use of Taser. Police Scotland plans to increase the number of STOs by 1500 over the next three years.”
There was little political support for the possibility of police being routinely equipped with handguns.
Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill said: “It is alarming to hear that police in Scotland feel like they need more protection. We need to find ways to give officers more protection but more handguns are not the way to go.
“Cuts to Police Scotland over the last 14 years have left officers stretched far too thinly.
“We need to make sure they have numbers and resources they need to keep themselves and the public safe.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: "It is essential the police feel secure and properly supported by their armed colleagues but any move towards routinely arming officers with handguns, would be disproportionate and risk driving a wedge between officers and communities.”
Scottish Greens justice spokesperson Maggie Chapman said: “It’s right that police officers are adequately protected, but we must differentiate between defensive kit and overtly offensive equipment like firearms.
“Firearms should only ever be handled by specially trained officers and used only on the basis of a thorough risk assessment when all other options have been exhausted. I am totally against the routine arming of all officers. Such a change in policing would be detrimental to building relationships with communities."