Armed Policing in Scotland – Facts Not Myths

Are all Scotland’s police officers now routinely armed?

Absolutely not. There are only 275 highly trained specialist armed response officers, fewer than two per cent of our entire police service. They work on a shift system so that means there will only be a very small number on duty at any one time. For every 1,000 officers there will be 10 officers armed and on shift. We have a small number of officers readily armed so the rest of our 17,000 plus officers don’t need to be.

But Scotland’s a safe place to live - surely we don’t need armed officers?

Scotland is a safe place to live and the first year of Police Scotland has seen a continued reduction in the levels of violent crime. However, it is the Chief Constable’s duty to take a proportionate decision, based on all the evidence that assesses the level of risk and threat to the public and keeps our communities safe.  The current assessment is that there is a need for a small number of armed officers to help keep people safe.

By having a small number of specialist armed officers available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this means that if the need does arise, we are ready.
Shouldn’t armed officers be deployed on firearms-related duties only?

Armed officers are police officers first and foremost. When not deployed in their specialist roles, armed officers support their local policing colleagues and can be deployed on regular patrols and operational tasks to keep people safe. It would be a waste of valuable resource if they didn’t continue with core duties. This can include keeping our roads safe or helping people in distress.

Just this week HMICS acknowledged that the availability of armed officers to appropriately support front line colleagues when not deployed on specialist duties is an efficient use of skills and experience.

Isn’t it more dangerous having armed officers deployed on the street with weapons?

No. The standing authority means our communities are in fact better protected. Officers are now able at the start of each shift to attach their weapons so that if an incident does require their support, they are already equipped and not working against time to arm themselves in a high-pressure situation. This reduces the risk of accidents and keeps themselves, their unarmed colleagues and the public safe.

Since the inception of Police Scotland there have been no accidental discharges of officers’ weapons in public nor any instances where weapons were drawn in circumstances in which the actions taken did not accord with the guidance within the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice document.

Does this policy not make Scotland out of step with the rest of Britain? 

No, quite the reverse. All police forces have armed policing and a standing authority which allows trained armed officers to openly carry weapons applies in 42 out of 43 forces across Britain - the huge majority of police officers across the UK are unarmed.  

Police Scotland’s policy does not represent a new policy for Scotland: equivalent arrangements applied in the former Strathclyde, Tayside and Northern police forces prior to April 2013.  This is a decision based on all the evidence and intelligence required that informs the level of risk and threat to public safety and the safety of unarmed police officers.

So there are more armed police now since Police Scotland was created?

There has been no increase in the number of armed officers in Scotland since the start of Police Scotland.

How is the Chief Constable’s decision on a standing authority reached?

The standing authority on armed policing is reviewed quarterly. The Chief Constable considers intelligence and evidence from Scotland as whole and makes a proportionate decision on the need for armed officers based on this information.

The decision is informed by a range of factors which includes the need to deliver equal access to specialist resource across the country and a range of intelligence and threat assessments which includes Police Scotland’s Strategic Assessment and the Firearms Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment.

The postcode lottery of previous policing arrangements prior to Police Scotland where different parts of the country would have different levels of service across the country was not acceptable. As we have seen in tragic events of the past, violent crime does not respect geographical differences.

HMICS will also participate in the next review quarterly review in September.

Is this a sign of things to come - does this not open up the opportunity for even more armed officers on our streets?

No. The Chief Constable’s role requires him to make operational policy decisions, free from political interference, to determine what is the best way to keep people safe. The decision on a standing authority is based on a range of factors, including the Strategic Threat Assessment, which assesses the level of risk to the public and other police officers. Any decision must be proportionate to the evidence presented. Immediate access to a small number of specialist armed officers ensures that the rest of the 17,000 plus officers can remain unarmed.

There are a number of standards against which the Chief Constable ensures his decision is proportionate. The training of our armed officers accords with the UK National Police Firearms Training Curriculum and our practice and policy accords with the guidance contained within the Armed Policing Authorised Professional Practice document, both of which are maintained by the UK College of Policing. The College of Policing provides independent oversight of Armed Policing training, with scheduled formal inspection from this body due to next take place in 2015. In addition to this, Police Scotland sits on the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Armed Policing Sub Group which ensures that issues of UK significance are fully considered within the Scottish context. 

Why has there been no public or Parliamentary consultation on arming Scotland’s police?

Armed policing has been a long standing feature of policing in Scotland – this is not a new policy. What is new is that all parts of Scotland now have access to a small number of specialist officers. It was unacceptable that different parts of the country had different levels of access to a specialist service that is there to keep our communities safe.

Legislation ensures that the Chief Constable is operationally independent to enable him to make decisions on policing free from political interference.  He is required to make operational policy decisions that will most effectively keep communities safe. Both the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Scottish Police Authority to which the Chief Constable is accountable share this view.  The next quarterly review in September will take account of the views raised so far, alongside the range of evidence and intelligence that inform the decision. 

How are officers selected and trained for these roles?

Police officers volunteer for these specialist roles and undergo a minimum of 9 weeks initial training to meet stringent nationally recognised standards for the Armed Response Vehicle role. This is supported by ongoing refresher and requalification training to maintain the required tactical and technical skills for the role. These individuals are volunteers and are highly trained dedicated professionals who play a vital role in keeping people safe.