The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) report armed police has failed Scots by questioning only the presentation of the policy, not the substance, John Finnie has said.
The Inquiry into the public impact of Police Scotland’s Firearms Standing Authority follows on from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Assurance Review, published in October 2014.
Both investigations were prompted by concerns, which John raised in early May last year, about changed policing procedures which saw armed police officers attending routine incidents for which no firearms capability was required, the so-called ‘standing authority’.
Following campaigning by John, and with much public support, the police changed that policy in October so that armed officers would only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life. Whilst Police Scotland has taken Armed Response Vehicle officers from routine duties, the standing authority itself remains in place.
John, who is a former police officer and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice and Police Committees, said:
“In its report, the SPA did little to examine the soundness and appropriateness of the original decision by the Chief Constable to give standing authority and, as a result, the public were understandably alarmed seeing unnecessarily armed officers patrolling our towns and villages. Instead the SPA focussed on public perception and made some passing remarks about Police Scotland’s communication efforts.
“It’s been clear throughout that Police Scotland displayed real arrogance by providing minimal information on this significant change on arming to the SPA. In turn the SPA failed the public by failing to give the matter the appropriate scrutiny. Sadly, rather than apologise, the SPA justifies this error by stating its ‘focus’ was on other matters. From an SPA point of view, it’s been everyone’s fault but theirs with mild rebukes to the Police, elected representatives and indeed the public.
“This report should have been very simple. Who was responsible for allowing the routine deployment of armed police officers on our streets and what steps have been taken to ensure no repetition?
“HMCIS suggested that rather than ‘operational independence’ we should apply the concept of ‘operational responsibility’. I prefer that term as it suggests engagement rather than a Chief Constable being able to charge ahead and do what they want without any regard to the public or their elected representatives.
“I understand that this report, which I was told would be available weeks ago, was delayed due to Police Scotland, who were given early sight of the report, demanding it be rewritten. I have to say that the whole tone suggests that is the case and I look forward to seeing Police Scotland’s official response to the SPA’s report within the correct timeframe.
“The public have no cause to be reassured by the mealy-mouthed words in this report nor the those of the Highlands and Islands Divisional Commander who only last week was complaining he couldn’t reach his agreed targets as he could no longer use armed officers.
“We must remain vigilant if we are to ensure Scotland retains an unarmed police service and not, as seems increasingly the case, becomes another version of the deeply flawed Metropolitan Police.”