Residents and shoppers blast police counter terrorism exercise as a waste of time and resources

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Police Scotland responded to public fears over terrorism and stepped up patrols during Black Friday last week.

“Be alert, not alarmed” was the key message from the force as they carried out a range of activities designed to raise awareness on countering the threat of terrorism and offer reassurance to the public.

Part of the UK Counter Terrorism network’s Counter Terrorism Awareness Week, the initiative came in for criticism from people logging onto The Falkirk Herald Facebook site, who called it a “waste of time and resources” and said officers would be better off concentrating their efforts on catching motorists who drive illegally.

The operation saw hundreds of Police Scotland officers from across the country conducting a number of high profile engagements and high-visibility patrols – however, that did not lead to squads of armed police officers marching through Falkirk town centre.

Chief superintendent Stephen McAllister, Forth Valley divisional commander, said: “We should point out that, although the threat of terrorist attacks across the UK is severe, there has been no specific intelligence to suggest this area will be attacked.

“We are not running any specific exercise other than our awareness raising patrols. We want to make people aware of this issue and inform them about the actions they should take if there is a terrorist attack, but we don’t want to alarm them.

“We have armed officers out on patrol 24/7, but there is no specific location they will be sent to on the day. We are using this day, which coincides with one of the town’s busiest shopping days, to focus our activities on raising awareness of issues involving terrorism and what people can do in the event of a terrorist attack.

“This shows we have listened to the public concerns since the threat of terrorism was identified as a priority in our Your View Counts consultation survey.”

And the divisional commander confirmed there would be no increase in police presence at Grangemouth’s massive petrochemical complex.

He said: “Grangemouth is a pretty well protected area already with various health and safety protocols in place. It’s easier to defend than potential targets in the High Street.

“Terrorist attacks, as we have seen in Paris, tend to take place in crowded public places like shopping centres.”

Scottish justice secretary and Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson said: “Understandably, many people in Scotland have concerns about the threats posed by terrorism. That is why initiatives like Counter Terrorism Awareness Week are important, providing practical advice that can help ensure we all remain safe and secure.

“As part of the week, Police Scotland and their partners are taking forward a wide range of engagements, which I am sure will both inform and reassure the public. I would urge local communities and businesses to participate.”

According to Police Scotland, communities were supposed to continue going about their daily business as usual but also be vigilant and report suspicious behaviour.

There was no local breakdown of personnel involved in the initiative, but 500 Police Scotland officers were reportedly utilised on the day, with numerous representatives from a variety of partner agencies also supporting the activity.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins, Police Scotland’s national Protect and Prepare lead, said: “The recent findings from the ‘Your View Counts’ survey showed us that Scotland’s communities see terrorism as one of their biggest concerns, reflecting the current threat level from international terrorism.

“We have responded accordingly to demonstrate the everyday work we carry out alongside our partners to keep the public safe and informed on relevant security issues.

“Black Friday is traditionally a busy shopping day with the start of the Christmas shopping sales, meaning towns and cities across the country will be extremely busy.

“We will be working alongside many partners including British Transport Police, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Scottish Ambulance Service, Scottish Business Resilience Centre, Security Industry Authority, and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association during the initiative and throughout Counter Terrorism Awareness Week.

“Together, we will carry out a range of activities across Scotland, including high visibility patrols and engagement events.

“I would stress that this initiative is not being carried out in response to any specific intelligence, but to ensure our communities have all the information and support they require to keep safe by being alert, not alarmed.

“It has often been said that ‘communities defeat terrorism’ and I firmly believe that.”

This week Police Scotland said it had received no feedback on the success or otherwise of last week’s engagement exercise, so gave no comment.

The online community were not short of comments, however.

Alan Boslem said: “Bit of a waste of time and resources don’t you think?”

Matt Hamilton: “Maybe they were going to make a concerted attack on our state of the art bus station?”

Philippa Burt: “What a waste of money. Better spending the time catching motorists who use their phones at the wheel.”

Andy Cole: “I doubt Isis want to blow up Falkirk.”