John finds it worrying that armed officers routinely attend non-firearms incidents

20th May 2014:

The failure of Police Scotland to recognise any possible downside to deploying visibly armed officers to non-firearms incidents is worrying.

I have invited my fellow Highlands and Islands MSPs to join my meeting with Assistant Chief Constable Higgins this coming Friday, in Inverness to discuss this situation.

Today I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice about this issue during topical questions, you can read the transcript below.

Question to Cabinet Secretary for Justice -Topical Questions

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): Was a community impact assessment undertaken in the Highlands and Islands before the decision to deploy armed response vehicle officers overtly carrying firearms to routine non-firearms-related incidents?

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Kenny MacAskill): I cannot answer that. Mr Finnie would have to ask the former chief constable of Northern Constabulary, Mr Graham, now retired, and the former board of the Northern Constabulary. It may be that he would want to speak to former board members; he may be acquainted with some of them.

You can watch the exchange here:

16th May 2014: I wrote an article written for ‘Sunday Mail’ on the 18th of May, you can read it below. 

“My background as a former police officer with 30 years’ service means that I am frequently approached by constituents about police matters.

Several weeks ago a mother spoke to me after her sons told her they’d seen ‘police with guns’ walking through a supermarket car-park.

I assumed at the time that the boy had made a mistake and he had seen the officer’s baton and handcuffs rather than any firearm.

Last week I received a complaint from a member of the public that armed officers were to be seen in the streets of Inverness when nightclubs close in the early hours.

I was then informed by Police Scotland that a decision had been taken- following the creation of the single national force a year ago – to allow a limited number of trained ARV (Armed Response Vehicle) officers to overtly deploy their sidearms.

I was alarmed by this significant change in police firearms policy and wondered how, as a Member of the Parliament’s Justice and Police Committees, I was not told.

When the former Strathclyde force sought to routinely deploy Tasers those interested in police accountability, such as Amnesty, were rightly outraged.

Policing by consent is a foundation-stone of the Scottish Police Service and the community style of policing of the north of Scotland has played a significant part in ensuring good public relations, making it the safest place in the UK.

The former Northern Constabulary had an armed response vehicle.

Should a firearm related incident need their attendance, the officers on patrol would seek authorisation from a senior officer to remove their weapons from the locked safe in the boot of the vehicle.

This worked very well so why the change?

I have posed a considerable number of questions to Police Scotland including who was consulted and whether a community impact assessment was done.

The threat to the Highlands and Islands didn’t suddenly increase at midnight on the 1st April last year.  Quite the reverse, we were all assured that our excellent community policing model would be retained, indeed enhanced by the availability of all the additional shared resources.

I have already had a meeting with Police Scotland with another planned for next week to which I have invited all Highlands and Islands MSPs – this is a community relations, not a party political issue.

We need to understand how guns can now be seen on our streets.

Police Scotland must provide the answers rather than question those now raising legitimate public concerns.”

13th May 2014: I wrote to Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins asking him the questions below.

  • Who took the decision?
  • Based on what criteria?
  • Following discussion with whom?
  • Was a risk assessment prepared and, if so, is that risk assessment available to the public?
  • What community impact assessment was made?
  • What part, if any, did the changed policy play in the compilation of local policing plans?
  • Whilst recognising the managerial ease having a single system apply across Scotland brings, what regional factors, if any, were considered prior to reaching the decision?
  • Crucially, are you suggesting that the prior to the change of policy that residents of the Highlands and Islands were somehow at risk as a result of Northern Constabulary’s ARV policy? If so, it would be helpful if you could please outline the specific short-comings and what implications there were for the public.
  • In stating “standing authority also allows them (ARV officers) to deal with an immediate threat as a result of an unexpected encounter” you can please outline how unarmed officers are expected “to deal with an immediate threat as a result of an unexpected encounter”?


12th May 2014: Article from ‘the Herald’: