More Armed Police Officers For Scotland?

6 January 2016, 18:05

Scotland's new chief constable has said he will deploy more armed police officers if the threat from terrorism or serious organised crime deems it necessary.

Phil Gormley, who replaced Police Scotland's first chief constable Sir Stephen House on Tuesday, said he would be ``foolish'' to rule out more armed police following the Paris terror attacks, and he suggested armed police on routine duties may be appropriate in certain circumstances.

The current threat of international terrorism in the UK is assessed to be severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

Sir Stephen withdrew armed police from routine patrols following a public outcry about police with guns attending minor incidents and being spotted shopping in supermarkets.

Mr Gormley warned choices will have to be made to protect citizens that involve new techniques and technology as well as police officer numbers.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson have both recently confirmed they have no intention of relaxing their commitment to maintain 1,000 more police officers than the SNP inherited when they came to power.

The new chief constable said he respects the Scottish Government's decision, but he added that discussions must now commence about the right mix of resources.

Mr Gormley backed the existing programme of control room closures, which has been slowed down following a damning inspection in the wake of two deaths in a crash on the M9 last year.

He also pledged to close Police Scotland's spiralling #25 million budget gap before the end of this financial year in April, but said the force is still working its way through it.

In a briefing at Police Scotland's Tulliallan HQ on his second day in the job, the chief constable said Police Scotland ``needs to have a very careful look'' at armed policing.

"There are lessons to be learned post-Paris around tactics, techniques, the numbers of officers that we have got and their deployment,'' he said.

"So that is a question that constantly needs to be revisited as the threat level around serious and organised crime alters and the threat level around CT (counter-terrorism) alters.''

When asked if he will rule out more armed police in Scotland, he said: ``I would be foolish to do so, wouldn't I?

"`If the threat from CT and serious organised crime demands that we increase our armed capacity to protect the people of Scotland, then I will need to do that.''

He said a decision on deploying armed police on routine patrols ``depends what those routine duties are and it depends on the context that they are operating in''.

He added: "If the threat level is sufficiently high that we need armed officers to protect the public, then that is what we will need to provide.''

Mr Gormley said Police Scotland ``do need to think about what capabilities we need for the future'' in relation to police officer numbers.

"Some of that will absolutely be about people, and some of it will be about skills, technical kit and investment,'' he said.

"Choices will have to be made.

"I don't want to get into a specific conversation about numbers, but I do think in the next five to 10 years the sorts of demands that police all over the UK will face will require both people and investments and new techniques and technology.

"The conversations I will have with ministers and the SPA (Scottish Police Authority) going forward will be private.

"`I absolutely understand and respect the political decision that has been made, and I will work within that framework.

"But I absolutely believe that the Scottish Government and the SPA wants a police force that is as effective as it can be.''

Mr Gormley said" the strategic direction is right'' on control rooms, based on what he has seen so far.

"`HMICS (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland) has made a number of recommendations, which is to stabilise the control rooms in the east and west and continue with the detailed planning in the north, which is what we will do,'' he said.

He said the performance of the control rooms over the festive period had been ``profoundly reassuring'' and he is currently ``comfortable with the direction that is being set''.

He also pledged to close the budget gap.

"That is my ambition and I will sit down with colleagues this week and next week as we work our way through it,'' he said.

"We are where we are and I will do my level best to bring this in.''