Armed Policing - Statement from Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone

There’s been a lot of debate about the benefits of having armed police officers on our streets. We have more than 17,234 police officers working across Scotland to keep people safe. Our armed officers play a critically important role in that, from responding to a robbery at gunpoint at bookmakers in Inverness in March to tackling a knife-wielding criminal who recently threatened the public and attacked our officers on Edinburgh’s busiest street.

Armed officers have long been a feature of policing in Scotland. Standing authorities for the deployment of armed officers have been in place across more than half the country for many years. Since early 2008 in former Strathclyde Police, 2009 in Tayside Police and from March 2013 in the former Northern Constabulary.  

With the creation of Police Scotland, the Chief Constable was for the first time, able to make a decision informed by all the intelligence and evidence for Scotland as a whole in front of him, to deploy a small number of high trained, specialist armed officers to be available right across the country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

There are currently 275 dedicated armed officers who are deployed on a shift basis across Scotland which means only a small number will be on duty at any one time.  Put another way, for every 1000 officers there will be less than 10 officers armed and on shift. These officers are highly trained specialists, available to respond to incidents at a moment’s notice where the deployment of armed officers is considered appropriate. Officers volunteer for these roles to keep us all safe. They’re armed so that the other 17,000 officers don’t need to be.

It is true that some parts of the country experience lower levels of crime than others.  But criminal behaviour does not respect borders or local authority boundaries. As events have shown us – in Cumbria, in Northumberland, in Hungerford and Dunblane, threat does not discriminate between the city or the town and the rural community. Police Scotland’s single unified service ended the previous post code lottery of services so all communities now have equal access to all the specialist services available at any time, including armed policing. 

The Chief Constable’s duty of operational independence requires him to make decisions on policing free of political interference and to assess what is best to keep local communities safe.   Nevertheless, we take on board some of the concerns that have been raised.  It is for that reason that the Chief Constable has already given an undertaking to take into account Highland Council’s motion calling for a review of the policy when the standing firearms authority is next reviewed alongside the intelligence, threat and risk assessments that will be considered at that time. The Chief Constable also provided explanation and reassurance to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the national oversight body responsible for policing, at the their last public Board meeting in Selkirk.

When armed officers are needed they are immediately available. When they are not carrying out their specialist duties they are there to support their colleagues in local policing divisions through regular patrols and routine tasks. This includes keeping people safe on our roads or saving lives such as the time a 79 year old woman was sighted in Caledonian Canal in Inverness and armed officers were the closest unit on hand to assist.  Our armed officers are highly trained and have strong connections with the local communities they serve.  They are dedicated to protect and support the people of Scotland.

Deputy Chief Constable Crime and Operational Support, Iain Livingstone