Police Scotland defend new armed officer sightings

POLICE Scotland has defended its controversial practice of sending armed police officers to routine calls – claiming that the armed patrols could not “drive on past” incidents because they happened to be ­carrying guns.
Sir Stephen House was grilled by ministers. Picture: Ian GeorgesonSir Stephen House was grilled by ministers. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Sir Stephen House was grilled by ministers. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Writing in today’s Scotland on Sunday, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone admits that officers from armed response vehicle (ARV) teams had been present at incidents such as recovering stolen cars, or stopping drivers who were over the drink driving limit – but insists it is part of their duty as police officers to ­respond.

He also points to the need for firearms when dealing with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, warning that Scotland was “not immune to that threat”.

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The claims come at the end of a week when Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has been under attack from Scottish ministers over excessive use of officers carrying firearms. It emerged that armed units have responded to more than 1,600 routine incidents when they “pro-actively engaged with members of the public” since assurances were given in October that the practice would stop.

Livingstone says that while armed police are only “proactively” sent to incidents which require an armed response, they are also duty bound to respond to other events which they came across while on ­patrol.

“I want to be very clear: these officers are only proactively deployed by control rooms to incidents which require a specialist response – those involving firearms or threat to life,” he said.

“However, who in Scotland would not agree with me that they are police officers first and foremost. And as police officers they will come across incidents during which they will use their own professional judgment and discretion to respond.”

Livingstone points to specific incidents – including help given to a woman in Dumfries who had suffered a serious injury after a mountain bike fall.

One ARV had also been flagged down by a member of the public who alerted them to a woman who was threatening to jump from a building and prevented her from doing so.

He says armed police had also recovered a stolen car in Edinburgh after recognising it at traffic lights.

“These are just some of the many examples of positive steps by armed officers on patrol to keep people safe,” he writes.

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“Officers involved in these incidents were not despatched to attend – they ­responded to incidents they came upon in a proportionate and professional manner.”

He warns that armed police are necessary to deal with terror-related incidents. “Scotland is not immune to that threat; in addition, we live with the threat posed to communities from serious and organised crime, including groups which have access to firearms.

“We respond in a number of ways including having ready access to a small number of police officers who can provide a specialist response when needed. I think most people in Scotland are glad of that.”