Police defend use of armed police at sporting event

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL

michael.russell@whfp.co.uk

Police Scotland have defended their use of armed officers at the end of the Highland Cross sporting event that took place last month.

John Finnie MSP told the Free Press that he had been contacted by a constituent expressing alarm over the latest development in the force’s controversial decision to routinely deploy armed officers to non-violent incidents.

He said: “A father got in touch with me over the weekend to say he’d taken his children to the finish of the Highland Cross charity race in Beauly.  He told me ‘I was shocked to see two policemen walking the street with guns. This does not make me feel safe, it scares me.’ Sadly, I suspect that family’s experience is very typical of the growing number of folk encountering armed officers at routine events.

“Police Scotland’s matter-of-fact response to this matter raises some fundamental political issues. Any proposal to change policy should have been discussed with the local police board and it now appears that the former convener of the police board had no knowledge.

“I am not reassured by the Chief Constable’s response which, once again, is a simple ‘we know
best’. The police need to know the public’s understandable concerns are not going away.”

The former convener of the Northern Joint Police Board, Western Isles councillor Norman Macleod, said he “could not recall any discussion” where the subject of changing the armed officers policy had arisen.

He added: “This certainly should have been discussed. I think I can speak for all the members of the board when I say that there is no need for routinely-armed police in the north of Scotland.”

Chief Superintendent Elaine Ferguson, divisional commander for specialist services, said: “Police Scotland can confirm that an armed response vehicle was in attendance at a road policing matter in a vicinity near to the Highland Cross cycling event.  The officers, who are familiar with both the area and members of the local community, were engaged in keeping people safe through road safety and high-visibility policing. Officers took the opportunity to speak and engage with the public whilst maintaining a visible presence to deter crime and encourage good driver behaviour in the area.

“When not undertaking their ARV roles, all officers are available to provide support to local policing areas through regular and tasked patrols. All officers within specialist services, which includes armed policing, are deployed in support of their colleagues in local divisions and contribute to our focus on keeping people safe which  includes addressing concerns within communities and responding to calls.”