LibLink: Alison McInnes: Better late than never for views on armed police to be heard

policeThanks in no small part to the efforts of Scotttish Liberal Democrat spokesperson Alison McInnes, the Scottish Police Authority has finally launched a retrospective consultation  on the decision of Police Scotland to allow Scottish Police to carry arms on routine duties. This has caused huge consternation in highland communities.

Alison McInnes writes about this consultation over at the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ website:

It used to be that firearms were largely kept in the boot of a police car and accessed only when needed. Now, armed officers patrol streets across Scotland with guns in their holsters at all times.

The Chief Constable ordered this change should take place without consultation. Parliament wasn’t told, local councillors were kept in the dark, and no effort was made to explain to the public how the way they are policed would alter or how the specific needs of their communities had been taken into account.

The SNP promised us that the new national force wouldn’t impose sweeping changes upon local communities from a distant HQ. However, it took months for anyone to investigate this and meaningfully consider the widespread concerns expressed by campaign groups, Highland Council and the public.

The two retrospective reviews now being conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) are better late than never.

The Scottish Police Authority is seeking to hear your views on the new nationwide armed policing policy before Friday 17 October. The consultation can be found here.

You can read the whole thing here.

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  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Sep '14 - 3:24pm

    Only yesterday I ran a debate with my undergraduate students on the ‘militarisation of the police’ as it appears to be ‘tooling up’ to do battle with???? So I am keen to hear what other LibDem’s feel about this article.

    As a former firearms officer I was actually very surprised to hear how few (275) armed officers there are in Scotland, whilst visiting my in-laws in the Highlands when this discussion initially started following sightings of overtly armed officers in the streets of Inverness as well as villages such a Brora even further north.

    I have mixed feelings about officers overtly carry firearms on a regular basis, but I acknowledge that I am immunised to the full range of feelings that other people have, as I was once in this position, and how this impacts on their wellbeing.

    One thing that I am though very concerned about is that we appear to be fast following the police services of the USA, where SWAT – Special Weapons and Tactics units drilled in quasi-military tactics and wearing ‘darth vader’ attire are being routinely used in a manner for which other tactics would be more appropriate and as such the potential for the unnecessary use of lethal weaponry and therefore unnecessary deaths is being escalated. I was once a member of such a unit here within the UK, and things have frightening progressed within the police since, although crime rates have fallen.

  • The one thing that seems to be missing from the consultation is any exposure of the considerations and reasoning behind the Chief Constable’s decision to change the way firearms officers carry their weapons when undertaking normal policing duties. It is also not clear whether the change only applies to side arms ie. revolvers, or also applies to the other weapons that are normally kept in the (firearms squad) car.

  • I believe in New Zealand police are not armed but there are locked cabinets within police cars which contain fire arms; perhaps this could be a compromise?

    I would suggest that low levels of fitness and unarmed combat training will encourage police to use tazers, cs spray and firearms. Use of tazers and cs spray should be used as a last resort , not the first one. Police using tazers on a blind man because they thought his stick was sword shows a lack of training and judgement.

  • The Chief Constable ordered this change should take place without consultation. Parliament wasn’t told, local councillors were kept in the dark…”

    As I’ve pointed out before, there was nothing secret about this change in policy. The Chief Constable had included it in his “Statement of Operational Readiness for Day 1” presented to the Scottish Police Authority back in March 2013, before Police Scotland had even come in to existence :-

    And it was being reported in the press even earlier than that, in 2012.

    I find it hard to believe that Alison McInnes didn’t know about this, given that she’s the Lib Dems’ spokesperson on Justice matters. Highland Lib Dem Ian Ross was certainly aware of it, since he’s a member of the SPA board.

    So why are the Lib Dems persisting with these false claims that the whole thing was done in some underhand way? And if it’s such a big deal, why weren’t they making a fuss back in March 2013 when they certainly knew about it?

    By making these false accusations, the Lib Dems are undermining trust in the police for cheap party political purposes.

  • @Stuart – apologies for being thick, but I can’t find any explicit reference in the document you linked to, to the specific issue of police carrying their guns in holsters whilst performing normal routine policing duties (as opposed to call outs requiring an armed response).

  • @Roland
    It’s the reference to a “standing authority” in section 5.9. This was the change in the rules that allowed armed police to carry weapons without specific authority, all over Scotland.

    Alison McInnes and Ian Ross should have read that document and understood what it meant. So how come, a year or so later, the Lib Dems claimed the police had acted “by stealth”? If anyone has been incompetent here, it’s the Lib Dems and the Scottish Police Authority.

    Here’s Police Scotland’s response to the furore :-

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 27th Sep '14 - 10:03am

    “I would suggest that low levels of fitness and unarmed combat training will encourage police to use tazers, cs spray and firearms”

    Research undertaken in the USA where the police services are further down the road to militarization tends to support Charlie’s belief. Here in the UK because not all officers carry firearms, the training and fitness requirements of our basic firearms officers tend to be much higher than in the USA where all officers are required to pass a firearms course and maintain an appropriate level of fitness and marksmanship. I am sure that people will be pleased to know that the fitness and shooting skills of many of our specialists firearms units is equal, and due to greater deployment, better than similar units within the military.

    Regarding the Scottish situation though, up until the Chief Constable change the policy, the armed response vehicles, I believe had the firearms locked away, and the officers would required authority to deploy with the weapons, unless an immediate threat arose in their presence.

    Where I beleive the Chief Constable made a mistake was in not actually selling the need for officers to be overtly armed to the public, who were then naturally shocked to suddenly see officers in their local shops buying lunch whilst carry a holstered sidearm. The semi-automatics weapons are I believe still locked away with I would image the other necessary equipment required to contain a firearms incident.

  • @Stuart – Thanks for the explanation – I did wonder about the content of the “Command Protocols” and hence the details of the “standing authority” that was to be implemented. Also thanks for posting Police Scotland’s response.

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