Inquiry Report into Armed Police Policy Published

Published

Inquiry into Armed Police Published

Armed Policing Scrutiny Inquiry Report Armed Policing Scrutiny Inquiry Report

PUBLISHED 30 JANUARY 2015

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has published the findings and recommendations of its scrutiny inquiry into the public impacts of Police Scotland’s decision in 2013 to authorise its trained Armed Response Vehicle officers to operate under a Firearms Standing Authority.

Among its key findings, the scrutiny inquiry found that:

  • a public attitudes survey of over 1,000 people found that public concerns about armed police may have been less widespread in Scotland than media coverage and civic comment may have suggested (with a narrow majority of respondents supporting the Police Scotland approach, and over three-quarters of respondents expressing no negative impact on their trust and confidence in Police Scotland as a result of the policy);
  • Police Scotland underestimated the community feelings that would be generated among a significant minority of the population from armed police officers being sent to routine calls and incidents, and that in some parts of the country this represented a perceived and significant change in policing style; and
  • the absence of a proactive communications and engagement strategy on armed policing ahead of implementation in 2013 contributed to subsequent public misunderstandings around the scale and deployment of armed officers in Scotland, and that despite considerable communications work by Police Scotland during 2014 these misunderstandings remain prevalent today.

The SPA inquiry also makes a number of key recommendations including:

  • that Police Scotland should undertake prior engagement with the SPA, local authorities and communities prior to making any further ‘non time-critical’ adjustments to the standing authority, deployment, or mode of carriage of firearms;
  • Police Scotland should ensure advance engagement with the SPA on all issues which are likely to have a significant public impact, and that this should be captured in a public document that sets out expectations for wider engagement with national and local government, communities and other groups; and
  • Police Scotland should ensure that all operational policies are subject to both community and equality impact assessments prior to implementation, and SPA should seek assurances that these have been undertaken and used to inform the decision-making process.

SPA member Iain Whyte, who chaired the scrutiny inquiry, said:

“This inquiry was carried out as part of the SPA’s scrutiny role and supports our aim of driving continuous improvement in policing.

“The inquiry considers that we have gathered the clearest picture yet of public views on the role of armed policing. Recent international events have thrown into sharp focus the pivotal role that an armed policing capability provides, and the views we have gathered provide reassurance about the levels of confidence the Scottish public have in our armed police officers and the contribution they make. But our findings also clearly demonstrate the mixed and divergent views that the issue of deployment to more routine calls and incidents generated among some areas and some sectors of society.

“That is one of the key lessons our findings and recommendations seek to learn from and address. Scotland is a diverse country and both Police Scotland and the SPA must consider the diversity of views, experiences and perspectives which exist within its geography and people. Equal access to specialist services should not be interpreted as meaning the ‘same’ access to such services. That requires careful ongoing consideration so that an appropriate balance is struck between two key outcomes of police reform - the consistency of policing approaches across the country and a service that is accessible to all of the people it serves.

“The issues raised around armed officers have also generated public questions about the effectiveness of accountability and governance. Our conclusion is that a clear accountability framework for policing with the appropriate statutory authority is in place. What can be improved is public awareness and understanding of that framework, and an early priority should be for SPA and Police Scotland to set out clearly and publicly how that operates in practice.

“Our aim in publishing this report is to identify practical opportunities for improvement. An opportunity to learn from the experience gained from this armed policing issue, to improve engagement between policing and those it serves, and to build on the very robust levels of confidence the Scottish public has in their police service.”

Notes for News Editors

1. This report contains the findings and recommendations of a Scrutiny Inquiry undertaken by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) into the decision made by Police Scotland to allow a limited number of trained police officers carrying firearms to deploy to routine incidents in support of local policing under a Firearms Standing Authority. 2. The SPA Scrutiny Inquiry comprised four elements. These were:

- a public call for written evidence which received over 200 responses from organisations and individuals;
- a series of public evidence sessions (held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness);
- a national public attitudes survey of over 1,000 people; and
- a report on effective police and community engagement by Professor Martin Innes of Cardiff University.

3. The SPA Inquiry was established to assess four key issues: 

- what the level and nature of public concerns are over the current Police Scotland policy in relation to the deployment of a limited number of firearms officers on routine patrol;  
- how effectively Police Scotland are engaging with the public and considering the impact on communities in implementing their approach;  
- how Police Scotland can best address any public concerns and provide necessary reassurance to communities; and
- what, if any, lessons might be learned around how operational decisions with wider strategic or community impact are communicated to national and local oversight bodies and other key interests.

4. Shortly before April 2013, the Chief Constable authorised Police Scotland’s complement of trained Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) police officers to operate under a ‘Standing Authority for the Issue and Carriage of Firearms’ which enabled the overt carriage of firearms and Tasers. Between April 2013 and October 2014, Police Scotland allowed this same complement of trained ARV police officers to undertake policing duties which were not limited to those for which a specialist firearms response was required. On 1 October 2014, Police Scotland announced that it would no longer send ARV police officers carrying firearms on their person under the standing authority to routine calls or incidents, although officers would still be expected to use their discretion and the national standing authority would remain in place. In addition, Police Scotland set up a working group which is reviewing how handguns and Tasers are carried as well as how ARV officers are used when not sent to incidents potentially requiring a firearms response.

5. To provide reassurance, scrutiny and assurance on the wider issues associated with this issue, the SPA and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) agreed to conduct a complementary programme of review and inquiry. The HMICS assurance review was published on 27 October 2014, has informed the SPA’s scrutiny work, and the SPA will oversee the response of Police Scotland to recommendations made by HMICS as part of its ongoing audit and risk responsibilities.