Campaigners call for u-turn on armed police policy

SCOTTISH Ministers should hold Police Scotland to account over the controversial policy of arming officers, according to civil liberties campaigners.

Police Scotland said emergency services were called to the scene and they are working to notify family members. Picture: TSPL

The Scottish Human Rights Commission and Justice Scotland have become the latest to call for a u-turn on the policy to allow guns to worn by police.

Professor Alan Miller, chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “Guns are lethal weapons.

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“They have the power to kill and to cause serious harm. Their use by police officers must always be monitored and regulated carefully.

“Any potential increase in their use is of particular concern when it comes to our human rights.”

He added: “The Commission recognises that specially trained armed police perform a necessary and important function when it comes to protecting people’s lives in violent situations.

“We reiterate that the force should only be used where there is a real and immediate risk to life.

“Introducing guns to standard policing duties, even where officers are fully trained, increases the presence of lethal weapons on Scotland’s streets.

“This kind of change should only take place with extreme caution and with appropriate scrutiny by all of the public bodies that have responsibility for policing policy and operations.”

Prof Miller argues that Scottish Ministers have a principal responsibility for policing policy and for ensuring that police power, priorities and style are exercised in a way that protects the human rights of everyone in Scotland.

He added: “We do not believe this issue is simply an operational matter for Police Scotland.”

Justice Scotland, meanwhile, claims that, in the majority of circumstances, firearms are disproportionate and unnecessary.

A spokesman said:”Routine deployment of firearms officers could risk the lives of the public and may on occasion exacerbate already difficult situations.”

The controversy over arming police officers on routine patrol, particularly in the Highlands, also faces further scrutiny by the Scottish Police Authority.

The SPA has given an indication the decision by Chief Constable Stephen House could be actually be overturned.

SPA chairman Vic Emery said: “The SPA will keep the issue under review – particularly around the areas of risk, health and safety, and complaints.

“If there are further issues raised around this matter that have not already been explored then the flexibility is there for them to be addressed in that public forum.”

The group’s northern board member Ian Ross said there is a strong chance the decision will come under tough scrutiny by members of the board.

He said: “As an authority we are acutely aware of the intense public interest in this decision and it may well be, although no decision has been made, that there will be further scrutiny carried out by us.

“We make observations and we may also make a number of recommendations.”

The issue continues to cause disquiet in the Highlands, with pictures of police officers patrolling the streets adding fuel to the debate.

Officers are also being seen in shops and restaurants with their guns, causing furore.

A total of 275 dedicated firearms officers are deployed on a shift pattern basis to carry handguns in a holster while on routine patrol across Scotland, but only a small number are actually deployed at one time. There are 30 in the Highlands and Islands, of which 17 are based in the Inverness area.

Prior to the new policy, which was implemented last year, guns were locked in secure cabinets in the boot of patrol cars. The change only came to light a few weeks ago.

Chief Superintendent Julian Innes said it was curious that the armed police team attended 2500 incidents in the 12 months between April 2013 and April 2014 wearing their guns but not a single member of the public raised a concern.

“They either didn’t care or they didn’t notice,” he said.

The SPA’s possible move towards scrutiny of the change comes days after five armed police officers were caught on camera in Inverness High Street mingling with the pub closing crowd.

Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill indicated that he would be asking questions about the armed police presence but has rejected concerns the chief constable has too much power.

Highland Council has told the Chief Constable they are against arming of police officers on routine patrols.