Politicians said the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) report highlighted the failure to consult over the policy to allow armed officers to routinely patrol Scottish high streets.
Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said the independent watchdog had “uncovered a systematic failure by Police Scotland to communicate the fundamental change in armed policing policy to people across Scotland”.
“All the evidence has pointed to an accountability vacuum at the very top of the police – something for months SNP ministers have denied,” the MSP for North-east Scotland said.
“I have consistently argued the chief constable’s so-called ‘operational independence’ has been used to stifle legitimate debate.”
Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “That there has been a failure to hold a full and informed debate around the deployment of firearms officers must rest with (justice secretary) Kenny MacAskill.
“To ensure we are not faced with a similar situation in the future then Police Scotland and the Scottish Government have to learn their lessons and ensure proper engagement with local authorities and communities is undertaken.”
Harry McGuigan, community wellbeing spokesman for council umbrella group Cosla, said: “It is crucial that councils’ legitimate interest in scrutinising national policing policies is recognised but those roles and responsibilities need to be clearer. At the end of the day, every national policy Police Scotland implements impacts upon local communities.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the HMICS report should provide “further reassurance” to the public about policing.
“We note that it shows that Police Scotland have complied with all relevant national armed policing guidance and that although armed policing has been a matter of recent public debate, there are actually fewer authorised firearms officers in Scotland following police reform,” she said.