‘Police must answer for bringing guns to streets’

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

Armed police on patrol in Inverness High Street earlier this month. Picture: Peter Jolly

The Scottish Human Rights Commission and Justice Scotland have become the latest to call for a U-turn on the policy to allow officers to carry guns in public.

The policy has been met with fierce opposition in the Highlands, with pictures of police officers patrolling the streets fuelling the debate.

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

“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 said Scottish ministers have principal responsibility for policing policy and 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.”

A spokesman for Justice Scotland said that, in many cases, firearms are disproportionate and unnecessary.

He said: “Routine deployment of firearms officers could risk the lives of the public and exacerbate situations.”

The arming of police officers on routine patrol, particularly in the Highlands, also faces further scrutiny by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

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

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

Before the new policy, implemented last year, guns were locked in secure cabinets in patrol cars. The change only recently came to light. Chief Superintendent Julian Innes said armed police attended 2500 incidents between April 2013 and April 2014 wearing their guns but no members of the public raised a concern.

Last week five armed police officers were caught on camera in Inverness mingling with crowds as pubs closed.

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