Scotland politics

Scotland to increase armed police numbers

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Media captionWatch Scotland's elite counter terrorism officers in training

Scotland is to increase its number of armed police officers by about a third following warnings that the country would not be able to cope with a major terror attack.

Police Scotland said it would recruit an additional 90 officers who will be attached to Armed Response Vehicles, bringing the total number 365.

It will also recruit 34 more trainers and specialist firearms officers.

But the force stressed there was no specific terror threat to Scotland.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson formally announced the changes in a statement to the Scottish Parliament, saying "the threat we face from terrorism is real".

It is understood it will take the total number of firearms-trained officers from around 350 to 474, with the new firearms officers being taken from the force's existing pool of officers.

This still represents less than one officer in 40 being authorised to carry firearms.

Police Scotland updated its anti-terror training and planning in the wake of last year's Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead.

The Scottish Police Federation had previously warned that Scotland was "woefully under-equipped, under-resourced and under-prepared" for a major terror attack.

The majority of firearms officers operate from Armed Response Vehicles, which are the first to respond to a potentially life-threatening or firearms incident.

But the force also has an elite team of Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers.

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Media captionTraining with Scotland's armed police officers

Police chiefs said the additional 124 officers were in response to the latest assessments of the threat from terrorism and the use of firearms by home-based criminal gangs, but were not a response to any direct intelligence.

They also said the force overall remained an "unarmed service", with the changes meaning that less than 3% of its 17,234 officers will be deployed in a firearms capacity north of the border.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said the terror threat to the UK as a whole remained severe, and it would be "dangerous and complacent" to think that Scotland was any less at risk than the rest of the UK.

He said much had changed, especially around the threat from terrorism, since the force's current firearms model was developed three years ago.

Image caption The majority of Scotland's armed officers operate from Armed Response Vehicles

He added: "Our thinking moving forward is based upon ensuring Scotland is as well protected as anywhere in the UK and that we are a strong contributor to the overall security of communities in the UK.

"Our focus remains absolutely clear: to protect the public, reduce the risk posed by criminals including terrorists; and ensure we respond swiftly, effectively and decisively to any threat."

Police Scotland, which averages about three to four armed police call-outs per day - has not revealed where the extra officers will be deployed as it is an operationally-sensitive matter.

The use of armed officers has been controversial in recent years, with the force revising its guidance following an outcry over officers with guns being spotted attending minor incidents.

Forces south of the border have already announced increases to their armed capability to help counter the terror threat.

In January, the Metropolitan Police revealed that 600 extra armed officers were to be trained for that purpose.

Image caption Mr Matheson said the policy of only sending armed officers to "threat to life" incidents would continue

Mr Matheson told MSPs that the "vast majority" of officers would not be routinely armed, saying the policy of only sending armed officers to "incidents involving firearms or a threat to life" would continue.

He said: "Armed police officers are, first and foremost, police officers, and they are expected to respond appropriately to keep people safe.

"However, let me be clear that armed officers will not be routinely deployed to incidents other than those involving firearms or a threat to life."

He added: "The attacks in mainland Europe and Orlando caused shock and grief around the world. As a government we are resolute in protecting the way of life that we enjoy and cherish in this country.

"The different threats to that way of life are real and as a nation we must be prepared for any eventuality. That is precisely what today's announcement is about.

"There is no specific known threat to Scotland. People are safe to go about their day to day business and should be further reassured by today's announcement by Police Scotland."

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