Armed Officers ‘break’ could spark new debate

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From BBC News Scotland on 12/07/2016

MP Ian Blackford believes a new debate on armed police in Scotland may be needed to clear up any public concerns about they how they operate.

Three years ago, concerns were raised by Highland and Borders councillors and by a number of MSPs that officers were carrying handguns on routine patrols.

Police Scotland said at the time that this was not the case.

The issue has resurfaced after reports that four armed officers had breakfast in a supermarket in Dingwall.

Police Scotland said the specialist officers were taking a break on Sunday morning, but used a staff-only area not available to the wider public.

The force said the officers were working within the rules, had done nothing wrong and were sensitive to the possibility of causing any concerns among the public.

Mr Blackford, SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said there was a balance to be met between protecting the public, supporting the work of the police and making guns less visible.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: “I think we have got to have an informed debate.

“I think that those of us that are politicians have got to say to people that there is that balance to be met. Yes, we want to be kept safe. Yes, at the same time, we don’t expect to see police officers carrying firearms.”

He added: “We need to make sure there is an appropriate level of response that can be delivered by the police service when they need to do so, whether that is over fears of terrorism or in any other circumstances when they may be confronted by dangerous individuals.”

The Press and Journal and Inverness Courier newspapers have reported that the four armed officers had breakfast in a cafe at a Tesco in Dingwall on Sunday morning.

Police Scotland said it was not a public area, but a staff-only area where members of the public were not present.

In a statement, the force said: “These officers were doing nothing wrong.

“Police Scotland’s standing firearms authority means that there is a chance that members of the public will see a small number of our officers in public places wearing sidearms.

“Armed officers must wear their sidearm while on duty at all times, but are only sent to incidents where an armed response is deemed necessary or there is an immediate threat to life.”

A row about the appearance of specialist armed officers in public areas began in the Highlands in 2013.

Highland Council said it was concerned that officers carrying handguns were more visible in public places than previously.

The matter prompted reviews by the Scottish Police Authority and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland.

The reviews backed Police Scotland’s policy of allowing a small number of officers to carry firearms in the interests of public protection.

However, it was suggested that force could have done more to explain the policy to local communities.

Police Scotland said at the time that armed officers were only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there was a threat to life.

The force also said that, while on duty, armed officers may find themselves assisting in incidents that they came across that would normally be handled by unarmed police.