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Top officer hits out at police for handling of gun row

SCOTLAND's most senior frontline police officer has criticised the national force for failing to explain itself to the public on controversial policies.

Niven Rennie, president of the ­Association of Scottish Police ­Superintendents, backs Chief Constable Sir Stephen House on decisions that have increased the visibility of officers with guns.

But Mr Rennie believes Police ­Scotland has not succeeded in communicating the reasons for gradual changes on this and other recent issues, such as the closure of control rooms or station counters.

He said: "My personal view is that the police could have dealt with it better. To take the public with us, we need to explain to them why we are doing certain things.

"Part of the problem is a particular newspaper might have a pop at the force and they don't tend to respond. Then the issue grows arms and legs.

"We have not done the explanation of the policy as well as we might have. This also applied to public counters and control room closures. The information has not been sold.

"The communications in Strathclyde used to be very good. But I don't think they have been so great in Police Scotland."

The single force has come in for sustained criticism over a number of tactical changes that mean Scotland's small number of armed police have their sidearms in holsters rather than in locked boxes in vehicles - and will attend routine calls.

The changes - some of which took place under the old system of eight territorial forces - are now being investigated by both main watchdogs for the force, the civilian Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).

SPA chairman Vic Emery this week told parliament his board had not been consulted before some changes were made and he would now be working to identify exactly where operational ­independence for the chief constable lay.

Mr Rennie, however, said evidence given to the Holyrood justice sub-committee on policing by HM Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman suggested that how officers carry their arms was a matter for Sir Stephen, and not for politicians or oversight committees.

He said: "Derek Penman was specifically asked if the chief constable had the right to make this decision. The answer is that he does. It makes clear that standing authorities to carry arms are based on risk assessment. HMICS will inspect that. Police Scotland have agreed to review the risk assessment quarterly. That is all they need to do, and they have done it."

Mr Rennie said he did not believe the chief constable should have had to consult the SPA before acting on standing authorities.

Some other officers have expressed frustration that chief officers have been reluctant to be dragged into a public defence of armed policing, especially, said one insider, as politics become increasingly shrill with the independence referendum looming.

The Herald understands some of Scotland's armed officers - there are fewer than 300 of them - have also felt uncomfortable that they were being portrayed as sinister in sections of the media.

Mr Rennie added: "The officers with guns put themselves in danger. When people are running away from a situation, [these officers] are running towards it.

"Nobody is mentioning their ­contribution to our society."

Former senior officer Graeme ­Pearson, now a Labour MSP, said: "Policing isn't a private affair we should be told about only when it suits. Though Mr Rennie is right about the need for better communication, the concept of governance is more than a committee merely receiving updates."

A Police Scotland spokesman said: "We are reviewing how we engage with communities in light of the issues raised regarding the standing firearms authority.

"There has been significant communication on the facts behind the decisions for both armed policing and control rooms and we welcome the forthcoming review by the SPA."

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