Comment: Huge gulf between guns and batons

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The case of the police woman knocked unconscious as she tried to make an arrest in Meadowbank is an extremely disturbing one.

And, serious though the incident undoubtedly is, it is not the most shocking attack on an officer in the Capital in the last 18 months. Last summer a policeman was stabbed four times after attending an incident in Princes Street.

So the mounting concerns about officers’ safety while they are on patrol is completely understandable.

This newspaper has said many times before that Edinburgh is on the whole a safe city, and that bears repeating today. But that doesn’t mean that the police do not regularly find themselves in extremely dangerous positions.

Armed robbers and drug-dealing gangs operate in the city, not to mention the alcohol-fueled violence seen in the city centre every Friday night.

One of the main reasons that Edinburgh is predominantly a safe place for us to live is the risks that are taken on our behalf every day by frontline police officers. Any question regarding their safety has to be taken extremely seriously.

What is the best way of protecting them? There are differences of opinion on that question even within the police force itself.

The routine arming of officers remains, for very good reasons, a fraught subject. Yet it is certainly true that there is a huge gulf between guns and batons, the primary means of defence available to most officers on the beat. Stun guns which deliver an electric shock occupy the ground between the two. Their use is severely restricted at present and making that more routine would be a significant step.

There must be a proper public debate before that is allowed to happen. The backlash over the arming of police with guns shows the importance of broad agreement on such a step. But perhaps the time has come for that debate.