Where to from here? 

The Scottish Police Federation Emergency Motion

As those who follow my twitter feed will be aware I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the Scottish Police Federation Conference as an ordinary member. I am very grateful to the General Secretary for enabling me to attend and see the proceedings first hand.

You may also be aware that just prior to the conference, in response to the London terror attack and the murder of PC Keith Palmer, the SPF tabled an emergency motion to be discussed at conference:

I was present when this motion was discussed. All of the speakers, including the General Secretary, the Vice Chair, the Assistant General Secretary and part-time delegates with vast policing experience in uniformed, firearms and public order policing between them, spoke in measured, considered terms. It would be reasonable to say the motion drew considerable consensus from the assembled delegates.

I will try to summarise the key themes, I hasten to add from my own impressions of the discussion, but which given their content I believe were highly significant:

  • There was a general recognition that the current policing model and resource/equipment provision no longer provides the protection that SPF members should expect & is unlikely to do so in the future.
  • It was recognised that current officer safety equipment was not suitable to enable protection from edged weapon attack (be it from terrorism, or as was recognised, regular policing operations).
  • Significant concerns were raised that whilst Armed Response Officers were superbly trained, they are presently not in a position to respond effectively to the requirement to protect unarmed officers faced with regular spontaneous edged weapon threat.
  • Great concern was expressed over the continued deployment of unarmed officers to general edged weapons calls.
  • It was discussed whether there needs to be a centre ground option between the unarmed officer and the highly trained ARV officer and that there was a role for the ‘ordinary’ armed police officer – however that model may evolve (my italics) in order to react to spontaneous attacks posing a lethal threat – particularly from edged weapons and incidents such as that seen in London.
  • There was a genuine desire from the SPF to open a wider dialogue with  Police Scotland, Scottish Government, other key stakeholders and the wider community about what would keep police officers and the community safe now and into the future.

Speakers understood that dialogue of this type may be difficult and it may take some time. They recognised that it was critical to bring both the wider SPF membership and crucially, the public, with them. Given the time it will take they wish to engage now.

They were supported in the above views by an informed and impressive preamble to the motion by a Police Federation of Northern Ireland Executive Member.

There was no knee jerk reaction to recent events, no ‘heart over head’ speeches, no demand to be automatically routinely armed. Just considered thoughts from the SPF Executive Members and part-time delegates whom for some, may have come to these conclusions having held very different opinions for the bulk of their policing service.

Critical to understanding the significance of this debate for me, is that for the first time on mainland UK to my knowledge, we have a Police Federation’s delegates questioning the ability for it’s members and the public to be protected from spontaneous lethal threat. This Federation represents the second largest force in the country. That’s pretty big to my mind.

So where do we go from here? A few personal thoughts:

  • The delegates were urged to engage their members in detailed discussion to further gauge their feelings, which I have no doubt they will do.
  • To progress the issue further though we will need to communicate to the public (and to many of our colleagues whom may not be fully aware) the lethal threat posed by edged weapons & our present inability to safely manage that threat unarmed – and also the regularity that officers deal with them.
  • We will need to be honest and open about the limitations of the armed response model to react to spontaneous events and the routine lethal edged weapon threat to unarmed officers.
  • We will need to look now at our ARV deployment model & how we look to immediately mitigate the risk to unarmed officers at the present time.
  • We should look to alternative models that bridge the unarmed officer to ARV capability gap that the SPF has, in my opinion, correctly identified.

I think Police Scotland has a unique opportunity to work with a willing staff association to explore how we can move forward together to better protect officers and the public right now and from emerging threats. I genuinely hope we grasp it.

After all, as the visiting Vice President of the Queensland Police Union said to me at the conference:

‘Every Officer has the right to go home safe to their family at the end of their shift.’

Lets lead the UK in ensuring that we do.


Author: West Coast Response

I'm a Police Sergeant here on the West Coast of Scotland. I love the job and the folk that do it. I enjoy polite debate on policing and criminal justice and am particularly interested in the practical impact of policing policy, police leadership & making the job better for frontline officers.

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