THE Capital’s police chief has insisted he is right to deploy armed officers on routine patrols in the city.
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said incidents such as the Willowbrae gangland shooting and the daylight stabbing of a police officer on Princes Street were a sign the controversial move was “justifiable” and “necessary”.
He said Edinburgh’s crime landscape was such that not having a specialist armed team would be “far more troublesome” for effective law enforcement. The comments – made during yesterday’s meeting of the city’s police and fire scrutiny committee – have sparked fresh concern among councillors, who warned the policy could become a “slippery slope” to arming all officers and trigger an escalation in gun-related crime.
Ch Supt Williams said: “I do not think it’s disproportionate – it’s justifiable and it’s necessary in a city of this size. This is a tiny number [of officers] who are armed so the rest do not have to be.
“I would want these [officers] to be available quickly because waiting for them to be authorised [to use the weapons] can take some time and that time delay can be really important when you are dealing with significant incidents, some of which involve firearms.
“I think serious incidents are sufficiently common in Edinburgh that it’s not a disproportionate or unjustifiable response to have in place. Previously, these officers had to delay their arrival at an incident until they had gone through quite a significant level of authorisation.”
It emerged in May that hundreds of police officers across Scotland had been approved to carry handguns on routine duty – even though there may be no obvious threat to them or the public.
The controversy over armed officers was fuelled by pictures of policemen with guns strolling through the centre of Inverness, one of the safest cities in the UK, and another officer with a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol on his hip while shopping in Paisley.
Councillors said they were deeply concerned about the policy and called for the provision of precise figures on firearms incidents so that a proper assessment of whether it is needed can be carried out. Maureen Child, Labour member for Portobello-Craigmillar, said during yesterday’s meeting: “It’s the perception of the public – I have huge concerns about that. I think what people in general will worry about is what effect that has on the criminal fraternity – and it becoming a slippery slope [towards] everybody being armed. The fear is that we slip into that being the norm.”
Councillor Joanna Mowat, Conservative member for the city centre, added: “If you are a member of the public, you are simply not used to seeing officers with firearms. I shrink when I see an armed police officer and I’m really uncomfortable about this.”