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Armed police numbers will be limited: MacAskill
Only a small number of armed police officers will be deployed at any one time in Scotland, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
Mr MacAskill's statement came in the wake of concerns that armed officers are now being routinely deployed across the country. Highlands politicians in particular have complained that the move results in a change in the nature of policing.
The policy involves members of the armed response unit carrying firearms whle on normal policing duties, but being ready to attend a firearms incident immediately. It was first introduced in the then Strathclyde Police in 2008, and then by Tayside in 2009 and Northern Constabulary just before the single Police Scotland force was created in 2013.
Chief constable Sir Stephen House has said that the policy will be reviewed in September, but it is not thought likely to result in a change.
Yesterday Mr MacAskill told MSPs that Police Scotland has 275 firearms officers – 1.6% of its personnel – deployed on a shift pattern basis, with only a small number actually deployed at any one time. If the number ever routinely rose above 2%, Police Scotland would have to inform both the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Government.
He added: There is not a routinely armed police in Scotland and I can assure you there never will be.
"In a democracy it is right that it should be a decision of the chief constable and not a political minister or party."
For the Conservatives, Margaret Mitchell MSP said the use of armed police was "disturbing", Labour spokesperson Graeme Pearson accused Mr MacAskill of having "an indifferent attitude", and Highland Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander described him as "deeply illiberal".
Recent figures showed firearms offences in 2012-13 at their lowest level for 10 years, but Police Scotland insist the policy has been adopted to address a present risk.