A hot topic at Holyrood over the past few weeks has been the arming of police officers by Police Scotland.
Many have raised concerns over the routine arming of police officers for non-violent incidents and the ability for the chief constable to take decisions like these unilaterally. It is recognised that experience across Scotland reflects the need for the police to provide firearms capability to enable an appropriate response in emergencies. This also reflects the experience of our Justice spokesperson, Graeme Pearson MSP, who served as a police officer for nearly 40 years.
While, of course, there is a need for trained officers to carry firearms to deal with challenging situations that necessitate such precautions, I share the concerns raised about patrolling officers routinely carrying weapons on their person.
We are particularly concerned about this being reported as a change in previous practice as there seems to have been minimal public consultation on the issue before any decision was made. The Cabinet Secretary’s relaxed approach towards this significant change to the nature of policing is equally as worrying.
Now it has been announced that the Scottish Police Authority and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) will be conducting reviews of Police Scotland’s decision to arm police officers on routine patrol. This must be welcomed, but the terms of reference appear to be accepting of the chief constable’s right to decide these issues on his own without seeking the views or approval of either the SPA or the Scottish Parliament which will remain a worry.
As with many issues relating to Police Scotland, this is a further reflection of a lack of ability for Police Scotland to be scrutinised in a full and proper manner by parliamentarians. I’m sure this issue will continue to be discussed and I’m sure that the majority us here in the North-east have no desire to see armed police officers deployed in a routine matter in our communities.
There far growing concerns that local policing strategies here are changing to reflect a style of policing which has been the approach in the central belt rather than the North-east. Even with the new Police Scotland there should still be the room for local police to carry out their duties in the most appropriate way for the area they serve.