Professional ‘Big Man’ – and domineering Police Scotland Chief Constable – Sir Stephen House’s attempts to turn the police force into an army of gun-totin’ supercops hit a brick wall today after he was forced to call off armed officers from routine patrols.
Over recent months (background here), concerns have been raised that cops with guns have been showing up at fights outside McDonalds, minor traffic incidents on busy shopping streets, rural athletics events, Palestine solidarity protests and Aldi checkout queues. The creation of a national police force, in April 2013, effectively saw Strathclyde Police – which House also oversaw – subsume the country’s seven other forces. This then involved the national roll out of House’s controversial cop tactics, including upping use of armed police, alongside his favoured “proactive” policing strategy of extensive use of stop and search.
The latter is ostensibly a bid to crack down on drugs, weapons and theft, but has given the police free reign to endlessly harass young working class people (and children), with searches – which also involved handing over name and address details – requiring no evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to go ahead. Although the success rate is less than 10%, House’s leadership style has fermented a bullying atmosphere that has even led to officers inventing imaginary searches to hit targets. An official report into the tactic was buried, with a section revealing that Police Scotland’s frisk search rate is “nine times” that of the NYPD deleted entirely prior to publication.
Barely a week goes by without new details on how House and Police Scotland have been trying to silence critics or cover up official findings emerging, their attitude continually marked by its complacency and arrogance. However, this summer matters did seem to be coming to a head, with mounting public outrage over armed officers on normal patrols. This didn’t stop House responding in June by saying that he didn’t want his “experienced officers” with guns, tucked away from the public as an “elite unit”. Criticisms were “almost mischievous”, with this not “the big issue people say it is”. Shamefully, he also cited the example of the Dunblane school massacre as a reason for police needing to carry guns in rural communities. Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill – who appears to have been taking orders from House most of the time rather than the other way around – agreed, saying that the “vast majority” of Scots are satisfied with the arrangement.
Today, House finally caved in and just about conceded that people in Scotland do not want police officers carrying guns on our streets. In their lengthy statement about how they’re definitely still totally right, the police conclude that due to the “views expressed about the perception” of a “a small number of armed police officers”, that they “will now only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life”, which is about as vague a way as admitting you massively fucked up as possible.
Credit needs to go to independent MSP for the Highlands & Islands John Finnie, who’s been kicking up a fuss about this for much longer than anyone else. It’s probably not a coincidence either that the Scottish Police Authority, the cop watchdog, have recently announced a major inquiry into armed policing, and have been seeking evidence and views from the public. If there’s one thing that House and his cronies really despise, it’s public scrutiny. So while we may have won this round, the struggle for a vaguely accountable police force goes on.