FEARS of an “arms race” between police and criminals on Capital streets have surfaced over a new policy of sending officers with guns to non-armed incidents.
Edinburgh’s top cop has written to city chiefs outlining the plans in response to dual threats of terrorism and serious organised crime. But councillors have called for new deployments to be debated at the City Chambers – with one talking of her own experience of getting a gun pulled on her.
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“More arms on the streets means more chances for armed violence,” US-born Councillor Amy McNeese-Mechan replied to temporary chief superintendent Richard Thomas.
“As someone who comes from a gun culture and possibly the only councillor who’s had a gun pulled on them, I can state that knowing that there’s an armed response unit somewhere nearby doesn’t contribute anything to a sense of safety on the street.”
A former armed cop himself, Mr Thomas said new guidelines are designed to put greater emphasis on “public protection, vulnerability and speed of response.”
He also praised the armed officers’ enhanced medical skills and hinted they could prove useful in support of national campaigns – to combat the likes of drink driving.
“I can assure you that there is no evidence to suggest an ‘arms race’ between police and criminals in Scotland,” he wrote back to Cllr McNeese-Mechan, details of whose brush with gun violence were not included. “Thankfully, it remains extremely rare for firearms to be used here as they are simply very difficult to obtain, and ammunition even more so (unlike in the US).”
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He pointed to the UK’s terrorism threat level of “severe” – meaning an attack is ‘highly likely’ – as justifying a 24/7 armed response to bolster public safety.
And he described an “overwhelmingly supportive” public when armed officers have helped protect concerts and festivals in the Capital over the last year.
Outlining a rigid command structure and rules governing armed police, Mr Thomas added: “I don’t hope to reassure you completely.
“I know that your views and experience of firearms will colour your opinion, but I can assure you that we have the best trained and supervised firearms officers in the world, bar none, and their role is to keep people safe, including the criminal community. I have full confidence in their ability to do so, and I believe that you should too.”
The extended role began last week with armed officers already helping find vulnerable missing people and provide enhanced first aid at road crashes, said Mr Thomas.
Greater efficiency rather than numbers of armed officers is the goal, he added.
Councillor Scott Arthur backed armed cops but added: “Personally, I think the wider public would be concerned if armed police were to be deployed, as you suggest, to support things like drink driving initiatives.”