POLICE officers are to take crime reports in Gaelic as part of new efforts to use the minority language.

Police Scotland already puts Poileas Alba branding on uniforms, vehicles and signage in the Highlands and Islands. Now officers all over the country will be encouraged to speak Gaelic on the beat and over the phone as part of a new five-year plan.

From 2017, the force’s logo will be rendered bilingual as standard across the country and in all official material, “demonstrating equal respect for Gaelic and English”.

Senior officers will also help would-be learners pick up the tongue to help create “a sustainable future” for Gaelic and integrate it within policing. Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Cowie said the strategy has been developed in response to a public consultation.

He said: “The importance of upholding traditional and native languages cannot be underestimated and as a police service we recognise Gaelic as an important aspect of Scotland’s heritage. It also has a significant role to play in the overall wellbeing of communities and the country as a whole.

“I look forward with great enthusiasm to taking on the recommendations contained in the plan and developing the service’s involvement with Gaelic speakers and communities where Gaelic is the dominant tongue.”

According to the latest census, the number of people with some ability in Gaelic was 87,100 in 2011. This included 57,600 who could speak but not write the language, 6,100 who could only read and write it and 32,400 who had all three skills.

Another 23,400 said they had an understanding of Gaelic, but could not speak, read or write it themselves.

Around half of those with the language lived in the Highlands, the Western Isles and Glasgow, and most of those with the highest level of fluency were from the Western Isles.

Earlier this year, Education Minister John Swinney said increasing the use and take-up of Gaelic is a “clear aim and priority” of the Scottish Government.

He defended spending on dual-language signage and other measures as “a good use of public funds”.

Under the Police Scotland plan, which also involves the Scottish Police Authority, “enhanced opportunities” for communications in Gaelic will be explored, with officers and staff to be encouraged to use it during their work.

Native speaker Inspector Donald Campbell told The National this includes the handling of 101 calls and while engaging with the public on the street.

Campbell, based in Fort William, said recruitment heads are working to make ability in Gaelic a “desirable” skill in all job adverts and implementing the plan will not cost the force money.

The officer, originally from Barra, who has 30 years in the service, says he is prepared for criticism from the “anti-Gaelic lobby”.

However, he added: “Most of these measures are cost neutral or cost minimal. I have heard the negatives about branding uniforms and police vehicles but that is on a replacement basis. It is not costing the taxpayer any more money.”

He went on: “Our aim going forward is there will be a body of men and women where at any point if you contact the organisation we will have someone available to speak to you.

“There are people out there who prefer to communicate in Gaelic.”

Under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act, which was introduced by then Labour first minister Jack McConnell in 2005, public bodies are required to produce materials in the language.

Critics have repeatedly claimed this is a waste of public money.

John Foley of the Scottish Police Authority said the body recognises the “financial challenges faced across the public sector”, but insisted the strategy will put no further strain on budgets.

David Boag, director of language planning at Bord na Gaidhlig, which works to promote and develop the Gaelic language and increase the numbers of Gaelic speakers, welcomed the step.

He said: “Gaelic-speaking police officers and support staff are already offering valuable Gaelic language services to members of the public on a regular basis and this plan aims to identify, secure and build upon these opportunities wherever and whenever possible.

“Gaelic is for the whole of Scotland, and Police Scotland, alongside colleagues across the public sector, are playing an important part in progressing the language’s revival.”