Hundreds of armed officers have attended incidents such as pub brawls and drink-driving cases since Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said they would no longer be deployed to non-life-threatening calls, MSPs have heard.
On October 1 2014, Sir Stephen directed that “armed response vehicles (ARVs) will now only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life”.
Since then, 1,644 armed officers “pro-actively engaged” with members of the public and five were deployed to incidents that were not deemed life-threatening, Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins told Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.
But he said this was a huge reduction on the more than 30,000 armed officers who engaged with the public in the first year of the force.
One armed response team was deployed five times in one night to three incidents of domestic abuse, a pub disturbance and another reported disturbance.
The officers and control room involved have been addressed and armed police are no longer deployed, but armed officers still have the discretion to attend routine incidents based on their own “professional judgement”, Mr Higgins said.
He said: “Deployed on routine duties since October, there have been five occasions where ARVs were dispatched to calls which didn’t fit the absolute criteria of a firearms incident.
“In three of the five incidents that were identified, I personally believe they do reflect a threat to life because they refer to personal attack alarms activations by victims of domestic abuse.
“The other two were reports of a disturbance and when police arrived there was nobody there, and a report of a disturbance within a public house where local officers required assistance with the ejection of people.
“The interesting thing about these five incidents is that they all happened on the same day, they all happened from the same area control room, essentially the people involved were the same.
“So it’s not happened once a week since October, it was a very specific period of time and we have particularly addressed the individuals involved in that and there has been no re-occurrence since.”
He added: “Since October 1, armed response officers have involved themselves in 1,644 instances where they have pro-actively engaged with members of the public.
“That will include charging people with offences which included dangerous driving, drink-driving and other such like offences.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said this is “quite a different story” from information they have been given previously.
“The assurances that we have had that police officers are not out on routine issues is given a lie by these figures – 1,644 incidents where police officers carrying arms are interacting with citizens in a situation that is not life-threatening,” she said.
Mr Higgins said: “To put that contextually, in year one of Police Scotland that figure was over 30,000 so I think we can demonstrate that there has been a huge reduction in the number of those such interactions.”
Ms McInnes said: “It is another example of us not being given the full facts.
“We have been given an assurance by Police Scotland that this is not happening, and it clearly is happening whether it is on a reduced scale or not.”
Mr Higgins said: “Ma’am, with respect, from October the message that we have consistently said in Police Scotland is that the ARVs will deal with firearms operations, threat to life and use professional judgement over anything else that they come across.
“In 1,644 times they have come across instances where their professional judgement has determined that they should take action.
“I would say that we haven’t hidden that fact, and that is what has been consistently said since October.”