OFFICIALS have pledged to keep the issue of armed officers under review as pressure grows on the Justice Secretary to intervene.
Reports of officers with side arms being spotted at unlikely locations across the Highlands have sparked concern, with examples including the finish of last month's Highland Cross charity race in Beauly to outside McDonald's in Inverness and a bakery in Brora. It also emerged that five armed officers were on patrol in Inverness on Saturday night.
A total of 275 officers have been given a standing authority to carry firearms. They work in shifts but while they are on duty must wear their side-arms in a holster even though they are on routine duties. There are 30 in the Highlands and Islands, of whom 17 are based in the Inverness area.
Vic Emery, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, said the body would keep the issue under review.
But Deirdre Mackay, the Highland Council's Area Leader in Caithness and Sutherland, called on Kenny MacAskill to act.
She said: "We need a public debate about policing by consent in Scotland. This is Brora not Beverley Hills and it's a classic example of what we are now seeing at family events across Highland."
She said when CS sprays and Tasers were introduced in full, reports went to the then Northern Joint Police board where they were widely discussed.
But she said there has been no such opportunity at local government level, Police Scotland level or national government level, to discuss the routine deployment of armed officers. This was an uncomfortable departure from democratic accountability, she said.
She said: "Where is Kenny MacAskill in all this? The Justice Secretary is responsible for the culture of policing yet he claims that this 'is not a matter for politicians.' Sir Stephen House claims he can make any decision he chooses -truth is neither claim rests easily in a democratic society such as ours - this is worrying and it is wrong. We need a full public debate on policing with consent in Scotland. It is not enough to say it is an operational issue this is about a fundamental principle of our legal system."
Speaking in Wick on Monday night after the Cabinet held a public question and answer session, Mr MacAskill was reported as saying he would like to "know more facts" about the five officers in Inverness city centre on Saturday night but he insisted the Chief Constable answered to the SPA and it was "definitely the right decision" to arm a small number police all across Scotland.
Mr Emery told the Herald: "We have made clear is that there is a need for ongoing information, transparency and reassurance on this issue. That is why the matter was the subject of detailed consideration at our last public meeting at the end of June. The SPA will keep the issue under review - particularly around the areas of risk, health and safety, and complaints.
"There are no current plans for this to be on the agenda as a specific item at the next board meeting in August. However, the board agendas accommodate the ability for both the Chief Constable and SPA members to raise ongoing and topical issues.
"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."
l A sheriff hit out yesterday after being forced to scrap a trial because Police Scotland had lost a recording of a 999 emergency call.
The stinging criticism came just days after the same court had to put off four trials because of a CCTV production backlog in the police's technical department.
Sheriff Lindsay Foulis was told the police had produced three separate discs they claimed contained the 999 call - only for none of them to work.
Perth Sheriff Court was told the content of the calls was crucial evidence in the trial of Angela Brattesani, which was scheduled to take place next Monday.
Brattesani's solicitor, Jamie Morris, asked for the trial to be postponed because of the blunder over the 999 calls and the motion was granted by Sheriff Foulis.
It was revealed by the Crown that not only did the discs not work, but the original recordings of the calls were no longer in existence.
Brattesani, 43, Glenfoot, Abernethy, denies driving a Volvo XC90 dangerously on the M90 motorway between Bridge of Earn and Kinross on 10 July last year.
She denies driving at grossly excessive speed, swerving between lanes, straddling the kerb and entering the central reservation, and narrowly avoiding several lorries as she overtook. Sheriff Foulis cancelled Monday's trial and set a new date in November.