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Oversight bodies to review police firearms carrying

15 August 2014

Public concern over the routine carrying of firearms by selected police officers in Scotland is to be addressed in concurrent reviews by two police oversight bodies.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) will work separately on the issue, with the HMICS report to be completed in October and its findings being drawn into the final report with recommendations to be published by the SPA in December.

The firearms issue first sparked public concerns in the Highlands earlier this year, though the region was the third where the former area police force adopted the current policy ahead of the merger into the single Police Scotland force. Last week in Holyrood, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill attempted to reassure MPSs that the number of police officers concerned would remain below 2% and that police in Scotland would never be "routinely armed", but this failed to dispel criticisms that the practice was changing the nature of policing in Scotland.

The HMICS study will benchmark the Police Scotland approach against a range of other UK police forces, aiming "to provide assurance that Police Scotland’s approach is compliant with guidance, procedures and recognised best practice". Following discussions with the SPA, it will include consideration of how armed response officers operating under the standing authority are deployed on regular patrols and tasks, and the extent to which wider community impact has been incorporated into Police Scotland’s decision-making process.

Meanwhile the SPA will conduct a "scrutiny inquiry" to consider the public impact of Police Scotland’s decision around firearms deployment. This inquiry will be informed by public evidence sessions as well as the findings of the HMICS assurance review, and will separately take a lead in assessing:

  • what the level and nature of public concerns are over the current Police Scotland policy in relation to the standing firearms authority;
  • how effectively Police Scotland are engaging with the public and considering the impact on communities in implementing their approach;
  • how Police Scotland can best address any public concerns and provide necessary reassurance to communities, and;
  • what, if any, lessons might be learned around how operational decisions with wider strategic or community impact are communicated to national and local oversight bodies and other key interests.

Derek Penman, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said: “This review provides an opportunity for HMICS to make an objective professional assessment on whether the operational decision-making by Police Scotland on the standing authority for firearms has followed the relevant guidance, and that any conclusion is supported by the prevailing threat, risk, and available intelligence. This assurance role was requested by Police Scotland, but this will be an independent review with the remit and scope that we have assessed is necessary to fulfil our objective to add value and strengthen public confidence in policing."

Iain Whyte, SPA member and chair of the scrutiny inquiry, added: “SPA has acknowledged that the issue of armed policing is a contentious one, and that we would keep this issue under review. One of the principles of good governance is that the public voice is appropriately heard within decision-making. Questions and views continue to be raised about the issue and we have concluded that an inquiry provides an opportunity for us to assess the level and nature of those concerns. That is an area where our initial phase of inquiry will focus.

“We also acknowledge that this is a specialist and technical area of policing. Our discussions with HMICS have identified a common set of operational issues that are worthy of review, and we feel they are ideally placed to provide us with the technical assessment of current policy and practice. Bringing together that public and professional evidence, and drawing findings and recommendations from them in a balanced and measured way, will be the ultimate objective of our inquiry.”

Opposition politicians have welcomed the reviews, along with a separate announcement that Police Scotland is to establish a panel of ethical advisers to provide input on issues such as stop and search and the use of tasers, as well as armed patrols.


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