Officer says firearms policy needed better explanation

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

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The officer in charge of policing in the Highlands and Islands has said he could have done more to make the public aware of changes to firearms policy.

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

Local MSP John Finnie raised concerns about the issue last month.

Ch Supt Julian Innes said he "probably had not explained" the police tactic as well as could have.

He told BBC Radio Scotland officers had been carrying Tasers and holstered handguns for 13 months before it had become an issue.

A political row over specially-trained officers routinely carrying side-arms started in May when Mr Finnie raised concerns about the change in policy.

He said previously firearms officers had to retrieve their weapons from locked safes in armed response vehicles with permission from a senior officer.

He said following the change in policy there had been occasions when firearms officers had supported unarmed police on routine duties, such as dispersing late night crowds from outside pubs and clubs.

Ch Supt Innes said: "I probably haven't been as good at explaining our police tactic as I possibly could. I will try to do that better.

"If the public are concerned I am quite happy to hear from them."

The senior officer said the majority of the public would not be able to tell if an officer was armed or not. He added that firearms officers did not carry machine guns.

Three Scottish police forces - Strathclyde, Tayside and Northern - allowed specialist officers to routinely carry guns before the launch of the new single force.

Police Scotland had adopted the approach across the country since its launch in April last year.

The force has 275 firearms officers - 1.6% of Police Scotland's personnel - and they are deployed on a shift pattern basis.

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