POLICE Scotland has been condemned after using an openly armed officer to deal with a driver not wearing a seatbelt.
A picture of the incident was taken by a Tory candidate for the Scottish Parliament, who said it showed little had changed at the force despite the arrival of a new Chief Constable.
Businessman Iain McGill was at his office in Edinburgh when he spotted the officer – armed with what is believed to be a Glock semi-automatic – carrying out the routine traffic stop.
Mr McGill posted the snap to his Twitter account with the caption: “Looks like a policeman with a sidearm outside my office ticking someone off for a traffic offence.”
Politicians accused Police Scotland of a “deeply disturbing” breach of the commitment they gave not to routinely carry firearms in public.
But the force insisted the officer had done nothing wrong and that the driver was placing himself in “danger”.
The photograph was taken in Albert Street, Leith, today (wed) and shows the officer in dark “tactical” clothing with the handgun clearly on his right hip.
Mr McGill, 39, sad: “There was no attempt to hide the gun. There was a big vehicle with blue lights and a policeman appearing to be giving someone a ticking off for not very much.
“It looked like a routine ticking off. They don’t need to be armed to do that.”
Mr McGill, who is contesting the Edinburgh Northern and Leith seat at the elections in May, asked: “What are armed police doing traffic stops on Albert Street for?”
“That’s not the job of the armed police. They have a job to do and that’s not it. It unsettles people rather than reassures people. ”
John Finnie MSP, justice spokesman for the Scottish Greens, claimed he got regular reports of firearms officers carrying guns whilst out shopping.
The politician, a former police officer, said: “The public have been given an assurance by the police that armed officers will only attend incidents which don’t require a firearms capability when that incident is ‘life-threatening’ or when the officers judges the incident is of sufficient importance to merit their intervention.
“Despite such assurances, I receive regular reports of officers shopping whilst carrying a sidearm.
“I will raise this matter formally with Police Scotland and hope they will understand why the public are concerned.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “It appears that this armed police officer has been ticking off a driver for bog standard road traffic offences and this could be seen as heavy-handed.
“The fact that hundreds of police officers are carrying firearms while responding to everyday duties is deeply disturbing.”
Twitter users were also disturbed by the image. Alex Deane responded: “Great. Getting an armed constabulary by stealth.”
And Kenny Murray wrote: “Jeez, parking ticket will get paid then I assume?.”
Huge controversy has surrounded the practice of Police Scotland officers openly carrying guns in unthreatening environments.
The force announced in October 2014 that it was U-turning on the policy but in August last year shoppers in Redding, near Falkirk, were stunned to see a fully-armed police officer buying his lunch in a supermarket.
Controversy over the open carrying of guns was one of many factors which eventually undermined confidence in force chief Sir Stephen House and led to his early retirement and replacement by Chief Constable Phil Gormley.
But Chief Superintendent Elaine Ferguson today insisted: “These officers were doing absolutely nothing wrong.”
She added: ”Drivers and passengers who do not wear a seatbelt are placing themselves at considerable risk if they are involved in an accident.
“Police Scotland’s Standing Firearms Authority means that there is a chance that members of the public will see a small number of our officers in public places wearing side arms.
“Their actions today were in line with the guidance that was introduced in October 2014.
“They are still police officers and cannot ignore crimes or offences in progress, just because they are wearing a sidearm.”