Police defend nationwide force against critics

Police Scotland firearms officers Specialist firearms officers carry a Taser and a holstered handgun

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Police in the Highlands have denied that the Scotland-wide force is operating a one-size-fits-all policy.

It follows a row over the deployment of armed officers on routine patrols.

Ch Supt Julian Innes, the area's divisional commander, told BBC Scotland: "I make most of the local decisions that take place here.

"But there are some standards across the whole of Scotland that, quite rightly, the senior management team will make."

Scotland's eight police forces merged into Police Scotland in April 2013 and critics claim that fears about centralisation and a loss of local accountability following the amalgamation are becoming a reality.

Regional conditions

Councillors in the Highlands have criticised the police for deploying armed police on regular patrols.

Meanwhile, in Dumfries and Galloway, there are concerns about an increase in stop and search methods as well as more licensing restrictions on events like the Wickerman Festival.

However, senior officers say all policy decisions can be reconsidered to take account of regional conditions and concerns.

"Things are different across Scotland and, if we use the firearms as an example, the amount of officers that are deployed routinely using firearms here is completely different to other parts of Scotland where the threat and risk is different," insisted Ch Supt Mr Innes.

Highland Council last month asked Police Scotland to review its decision to arm officers in its area.

'Central Belt policies'

A small number of specially-trained officers in the area have been routinely carrying side-arms since before April last year.

Cllr David Alston, Highland Council depute leader, said: "It runs so contrary to the real improvements in our society, the reductions in violence.

"Why, at the point when there is less violent crime in the Highlands than ever before, should we suddenly have armed police on the streets? It simply doesn't make sense."

Concerns that the nature of policing is changing were echoed by Cllr Finlay Carson of Dumfries and Galloway Licensing Board.

"I know there were fears initially that, when Police Scotland came into force, we would get Central Belt policies applied across the country and it would appear that these fears have come true and we're seeing Strathclyde policing policies imposed in rural areas - something that we didn't really want to see."

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