SCOTTISH Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has called for a full formal review of the routine arming of police officers.

The policy has attracted criticism after it emerged 275 officers were armed as they also carried out routine patrols.

The issue was highlighted by politicians in the Highlands who said it was unnecessary as the crime rate was low in the area.

Loading article content

Council leaders complained that armed officers had attended a fight in a fast-food restaurant and pictures have also shown an armed constable shopping at a Tesco supermarket in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Mr Rennie accused Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) of "stonewalling" calls by Highland Council for the policy to be scrapped in the area. He also claimed Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had "abdicated any and all responsibility" for the policies of Police Scotland.

He said: "Highland Council's united calls for the policy to be scrapped have been stonewalled until the next routine SPA risk meeting in September.

"That isn't a good enough response to the pressing concerns of these communities. Scottish Liberal Democrats want the SPA to undertake an immediate and full formal review of Police Scotland's policy on armed police. Pending the outcome of that review I know many wish to see an end to the deployment of armed officers on routine duties."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Armed police officers have been a long-standing feature of policing in Scotland and it is for the Chief Constable to make operational decisions about where and when to deploy resources."

She added: In the first year of Police Scotland, specialist firearms units attended more than 1,300 incidents across the whole of Scotland - including more than 100 in the Highlands.

"The approach taken by Police Scotland is an operational decision which allows officers to be deployed quickly in the event of any emergencies."

More than 98 per cent of police are unarmed according to the Scottish Government.

A spokesman for the SPA said: "We have made clear that there is a need for ongoing information, transparency and reassurance on this issue. In our consideration of the issue, SPA members stressed that public concerns, particularly in the north of Scotland, were real and an ongoing process of information and engagement was required to address them."