THE number of dedicated Police Scotland firearms inspectors is to be slashed from 34 to just 14, a leading authority on shooting revealed yesterday.
Colin Shedden, Scottish Director of The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said he had been told about the cuts by “upset” police staff.
Firearms enquiry officers are highly-trained civilians employed by Police Scotland to make sure gun owners are complying with strict laws on keeping weapons and ammunition safe.
They also carry out background checks on applicants to try to ensure deadly weapons to not get into the wrong hands.
The Scottish Government this week confirmed that the number of FEOs had already dropped from 41 to 34 in the past year – despite an increase in the number of gun licences issued.
Ministers are instead training a number of serving police officers to do the job in addition to their normal duties – giving them a three-day training course before they start work.
The cut in FEOs and their replacement with “part-time” police officers was yesterday described as “concerning”.
The role of gun licensing officers was highlighted at the public inquiry into the Dunblane tragedy. Lord Cullen said there was a need to “strengthen the support” given to those who carry out enquiries into gun holders.
Mr Shedden said: “My understanding is the 34 enquiry officers will be reduced to 14. I have been told by a number of enquiry officers themselves who have been quite upset about the process.”
He added: “Over the last two years there has been a small reduction. The big reduction is later this year.
“A lot of experience and wisdom will be lost.”
“Savings need to be made in the police service. Bobbies on the beat can’t be reduced. It appears savings are being made by reducing the number of civilian enquiry officers.
“They are training 200 to 300 serving police officers so they can fill the gap.
“That may bring more resources. But our concern is that the officers that are in place now are experienced and know what they are doing.
“I think an experienced firearms enquiry officer may pick up subtleties that some else without that experience wouldn’t pick up. Subtle changes in a person’s behaviour that a serving police officer might not.”
He said a “very small number” of gun holders could represent a “threat to society” and need to be picked up.
In a written response to Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson revealed the number of firearms enquiry officers was reduced by seven between 2014-14 and 2014-15.
He continued: “Police Scotland is currently consulting staff on proposals to change the way the firearms licensing function is managed and delivered.
“No decisions have been taken as yet on the way forward, but I understand that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the review.”
A spokesman for Taxpayer Scotland said Police chiefs need to “sort their priorities out”.
He said: “Taxpayers are sick to the back teeth of seeing the organisation waste money on branding exercises, and those decisions takes money away from the sort of services that Scots expect their Police Force to provide.
“When money is tight, it’s even more crucial that every single penny is spent properly.”
Superintendent Alick Irvine of Police Scotland’s Licensing and Violence Reduction Division said: ” No final decision about overall numbers have been decided. ”
He continued: “Police Scotland works closely with the BASC and will continue to do so in the future.
“The changes brought in mean we are introducing a national firearms licensing structure which will ensure flexibility and offer the correct level of support across the country according to demand.”
Commenting on the three days of training police officers will undergo he said: “The length of the course is considered sufficient to equip staff with the key skills required for this area of business.”
Asked if police have acted on the recommendations of the enquiry into the Dunblane shootings he said: “Police Scotland is fully aware of the recommendations made by Lord Cullen and take due regard of them in managing firearms licensing business.”