Police Scotland change armed policing policy – a victory for Lib Dem McInnes

Armed Police graphicWe’ve covered the controversy over the use of armed police in Scotland several times over the past few months. A standing authority for firearms led to armed officers patrolling Scotland’s streets, often against the wishes of local communities, particularly in the Highlands. People had been horrified to see police officers with guns in their holsters going into the shops in peaceful Highland villages. Concerns were also raised that the routine arming of Police would lead to criminals routinely arming themselves, making us all less safe.

Danny Alexander took exception to armed police patrolling the streets of Inverness. Alison McInnes, the highly effective Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament, has campaigned tirelessly for a change in policy. And yesterday, Police Scotland changed its mind. The BBC reports;

Specialist armed police officers in Scotland will in future only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.

The move came following concerns from politicians about officers carrying weapons while on routine patrol.

Opposition parties described the move as a U-turn.

In an email to Scottish Party members last night, Alison McInnes said:

I  want to thank all the members, councillors and activists who added their voice to our Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign to get the guns back off the streets.

Scotland has a Justice Secretary unwilling to listen to local communities – whether it’s crude one-size-fits-all policing across Scotland, unregulated stop and search of children or the deployment of armed police.

So it has taken sustained pressure from the Scottish Liberal Democrats to bring about this u-turn, and I am sure you will share my delight that Police Scotland has made the right decision and will no longer deploy firearms officers on routine duties.

This u-turn is a win for the many local communities across Scotland who were alarmed by this undemocratic and fundamental change in policing approach.

I have always been clear that there is a correct time and place for Armed Response Vehicle Officers. However it is not reasonable, nor proportionate, for those officers to undertake foot patrols on our high streets or to turn up on people’s doorsteps.

It is resoundingly clear that when it comes to justice, the SNP choose to stand up for heavy handed tactics while Liberal Democrats stand up for communities and the protection of civil liberties.

It’s not over yet. I certainly won’t be happy until the Standing Authority that allows the Police to use arms on routine duties has been removed, but this is a significant development.

The whole episode has shown up the SNP’s Justice Secretary, “Clear Desk” Kenny MacAskill, whose view, as it is on so many things, was that this radical change in policy brought in with no consultation was an “operational matter for the police.” In the interests of justice, he needs to be removed from his job and it is to be hoped that he’s reshuffled off to the long grass when the new First Minister, likely to be Nicola Sturgeon, takes office.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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4 Comments

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 3rd Oct '14 - 9:02am

    Colleagues,

    The result is in my opinion a good compromise.

    Armed response crews will routinely have their firearms secured in the gun safes in their vehicles when they are involved in general police duties, but have swift access to these sadly necessary pieces of equipment when required.

    An excellent resolution that was championed by the Liberal Democrat Party.

  • It is time that the Police looked at the standards of martial arts /un -armed of many far eastern police forces , especially the riot police. Physically un impressive, unfit and poorly trained police wearing stab proof vests, who use cs spray, side batons and tazers as first resorts does not make up for physically fit, physically fit and highly trained personnel who only use the equipment as a last resort.

    When police tazer a blind man because they think his white stick is a sword , then it shows they are are inadequately trained.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 4th Oct '14 - 11:46am

    Charlie you raise very valid points that are corroborated within Balko, R. (2014). Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. 1st ed. New York: PublicAffairs.

    The British police service is fast following the USA in the militarisation of both the policing of firearms and public order incidents, which Balko highlights from the USA experience has meant that officers are prone to reach for their weaponry before using other tactics. He further highlights the real danger that officers who are unfit (physically and/or psychologically) to carry firearms are also more likely to revert to the use of lethal weapons before more competent officers.

    Currently the level of training that is undertaken by the specialists firearms officers in the UK is of a high standard and when on duty many of these officers are either training or they are deployed. A good example of the sort of training that Armed Response personnel undertake can be viewed on the West Midlands Police Youtube site . The officers shown have already gone through a basic firearms course and will have to undertake even more training to be deployed to more serious incidents.

    As a former firearms officer, and someone who has worked closely with regard to discriminatory practices within the police and criminal justice system, I am deeply concerned that in an organisation where institutional discrimination is obvious in such things as Stop & Search practices, whether officers with inappropriate ‘unconscious biases’ can really be trusted to undertake firearms operations where split second responses are required to be 100% correct and non-discriminatory.

    Currently I am not aware of any national psychometric testing that officers are put through before they are considered as appropriate to undertake firearms training or for that matter once they have been deployed. Surely in the 21st Century we need to be assured that the officers who are entrusted with this immensely important aspect of policing are not only trained to the highest standards, but they are physically and psychologically fit for the role.

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