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Protest Policing

by msecadm4921

How to police protest – in a fast-moving and televised age – made the news in February with a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). A less-noticed part of the report covered use of force – which is fundamental, whether for police or security officers, a trainer told Professional Security.

The HMIC report made much of social media and mobile phones that enable demonstrators to organise and change their plans quickly. Bear in mind also that at recent protests, such as during the G20 summit in London in 2009 and the student protests in November 2010, protesters and TV cameras could capture any use of force by an officer, even if only momentary. While police and security officers have different roles, and rights, the right to act in self-defence is the same, whether for a security or police officer. Bill Fox of trainers Maybo suggested that police and security training in the use of force should not just focus on the important elements of ‘reasonable and proportionate’; it needs to focus more on what Bill called the fundamental question – is the use of force necessary? Are there alternatives? He said: “One of the key things with protests is that the actions of even an individual on the ground can spark an escalation.” Bill stressed that perceptions – by the protesters and by the security or police force facing them – matter. He made the point that we assume that all those in a crowd, particularly a protesting crowd, are the same. Not so; all the people in the crowd may have a common purpose – which is why they are there – but the values of individual members and sub-groups will be different. The danger is that the security or police force acts in a way that is perceived as heavy-handed towards a member or segment of a crowd. That can be perceived as a threat to all those protesting, and unite a crowd into a collective and formidable force. Bill queried whether there is understanding and training across the board of how to deal with such scenarios. He stressed the importance of building rapport at every level to prevent a perception that police and security are a faceless force. The de-humanising effect of this makes it easier to throw punches and missiles.<br><br>The 45-page HMIC report spoke of principles of ‘proportionality’ and ‘minimum use of force’. It included case studies of 2010 protests: by the far-right English Defence League (EDL); and by anti-nuclear campaigners outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston. There as the report noted, the protesters called for a ‘big blockade’, and so among the police operation’s aims were ‘minimise disruption’, and ‘to preserve the physical integrity’ of the sites (which provide nuclear warheads). As the report hinted, protests have different effects: in cities (as in London on May Day 2010), transport and high streets can be disrupted, or damaged. The report likewise stressed the need for dialogue with protesters. “Police strategy or tactics should not be oriented exclusively towards the control of the crowd through the threat or use of force but should ensure the effective facilitation of the legitimate intentions underpinning the protesters’ action. This should be effectively communicated to protesters, with an<br>indication of what conduct will and will not be tolerated by police.” HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, said: “The pattern of protest is evolving in terms of numbers, spread, disruption and, in some instances, violence.”

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