Police Scotland to increase armed officer numbers

Assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins

Police Scotland is to increase the number of armed officers in response to increased threats from terrorists and armed criminals.

Assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins said plans were being taken forward to recruit 124 officers from across Police Scotland to enhance the capacity and capability across the country in response to any emerging threat.

There are currently 275 officers dedicated to armed response vehicles (ARVs). The increases will take place over the coming months with additional ARVs deployed in key locations, specialist firearms capability enhanced and resources identified to boost training requirements.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and the Scottish government have been involved in discussions around the increase, which is an operational decision for the chief constable. In April this year the National Police Chiefs’ Council announced extra officers and training for England and Wales.

The increase is in response to the latest assessments of threat from terrorism and criminal use of firearms. It would mean that fewer than three per cent of officers are deployed in a firearms capacity in Scotland, which is comparable with other forces in the UK.

Dr Liz Campbell, senior lecturer in criminal law & evidence at Edinburgh University told Scottish Legal News that the plans “seems a moderate and sensible response to the threat of terrorism given that Police Scotland will remain an “unarmed service” predominantly, with 2-3 per cent of the force armed.

“The critical element is that such armed officers are deployed only when absolutely necessary, unlike the recent controversy where armed officers were present at minor incidents.”

Assistant chief constable Higgins said: “The threat level to the UK remains severe. There is no specific known threat to Scotland and this increase is not a response to any direct intelligence; but we must play our part in ensuring the safety and security of the whole of the UK. It would be dangerously complacent to think that Scotland is any less at risk than the rest of the UK and this move helps enhance our response.

“The current firearms deployment model in Scotland was developed in 2013. Much has changed, especially around the threat from terrorism, but also our understanding and assessment of criminal access to and use of firearms. Our thinking moving forward is based upon ensuring Scotland is as well protected as anywhere in the UK and that we are a strong contributor to the overall security of communities in the UK.”

Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson said: “The vast majority of Scotland’s police officers are not routinely armed and we have made an unequivocal commitment that that position will not change. Of our 17,317 police officers only a small proportion have standing firearms authority to carry weapons. This will now increase, but will still represent a small percentage, fewer than one in 40 officers.”

The increase in capacity and capability is expected to be complete by the spring/summer 2017.

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