Two reviews to examine arming of Scottish police
Police Scotland's decision to allow a small number of its officers to carry handguns will be the subject of two reviews, it has been announced.
The Scottish Police Authority and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland will, in parallel, scrutinise different areas.
The HMICS' review will include an examination of how the firearms officers are deployed on regular patrols and tasks.
The appearance of armed officers on routine tasks has sparked a row.
Some politicians have criticised the deployment of specialist firearms officers on regular patrols, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, an area with a low crime rate.
Highland Council has also raised concerns after officers carrying handguns were seen on routine patrols in Inverness.
Police Scotland and the Scottish government said the deployment of firearms officers offered better protection to the public.
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said the force welcomed the reviews.
The HMICS will hold what it calls an assurance review to independently assess the current practices for the issue and carrying of firearms by armed response vehicle crews.
It aims to provide assurance that Police Scotland's approach is compliant with guidance, procedures and recognised best practice.
Following discussions with the SPA, the inspectorate said it had agreed to broaden the terms of the review to include consideration of how armed officers are deployed on regular patrols and tasks.
The HMICS will also look at what impact this has on communities.
The SPA has announced that it is setting up a scrutiny inquiry to consider the public impact of Police Scotland's decision around firearms deployment.
The scrutiny inquiry team will be chaired by SPA member Iain Whyte.
Derek Penman, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said: "This assurance role was requested by Police Scotland, but this will be an independent review with the remit and scope that we have assessed is necessary to fulfil our objective to add value and strengthen public confidence in policing.
"Engagement with the SPA has informed the scope of our work, and I am confident that our review will support the SPA in its wider scrutiny of armed policing."
Mr Penman added: "I believe this is a positive example of how different parts of the governance and scrutiny landscape in Scottish policing can work together in a complementary way with Police Scotland to improve outcomes for the public."
Mr Whyte said: "SPA has acknowledged that the issue of armed policing is a contentious one, and that we would keep this issue under review.
"One of the principles of good governance is that the public voice is appropriately heard within decision-making."
Senior officer Mr Livingstone said only trained officers were allowed to carry a sidearm and a Taser.
He said: "We welcome confirmation of the review by HMICS and the Scottish Police Authority following our request to the inspectorate for an independent assessment of the standing authority decision process.
"As part of this, HMICS will attend the next firearms monitoring group in September where the standing firearms authority will be reviewed."
He added: "Following this review and if a decision is made that the authority should remain in place, we will commission further work to consider alternative options for the carrying of weapons by armed officers.
"Police Scotland will also review the operational guidance provided to officers regarding the functions they perform when not engaged in firearms duties and consider how we may improve our engagement with communities."
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the reviews were "a welcome response to the growing public and political pressure".
He added: "The police do need to deploy firearms in response to serious incidents, but the sight of armed police on our streets while carrying out routine duties has alarmed many Scots and we deserve to know why it happened and why our communities were not consulted."
The Scottish Liberal Democrats Alison McInnes said the decision was "a victory for local communities".
But Scottish Labour's Graeme Pearson the scrutiny had come "very late in the day".