Protest policing review – our response

Protest Justice has challenged the recent review regarding operational policing of public order and protest. We believe that the National Police Chiefs Council and College of Policing guidance document does not correspond with the experience of protest policing on the ground from multiple police forces. The guidance appears to be at odds with the embedded cultural approach of policing protests which is dangerous, imbalanced and morally corrupt.

The two documents we commented on were, to say the least, “politically correct” and aspirational in terms of police practice at protest. (1) The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Protest Operational Advice Document and (2) Public Order APP: Core principles and legislation (update).

Netpol has called the first major review of operational policing of public order and protest in almost a decade “fundamentally misguided” and has challenged the authors of the consultation documents to justify offering guidance to local police forces that has no basis in law. Read their article and submission here.

Our submission:

The guidance contained in these documents certainly does not match my experience of attending protests, nor that of those who have reported incidents to us. The police consistently prevent the protesters and the thin veil of “keeping you safe” and “allowing” or “I’m facilitating your protest” subsequently blatantly facilitates the corporations. It is not down to the police to dictate HOW someone can protest as they frequently insist on doing! The response by the police is frequently disproportionate, violent – without provocation – (22% of all incident reports received) and they consistently turn a ‘blind eye’ to acts of harassment, abuse, violence or threatening behaviour towards the protesters by individuals involved with the industry being protested against (also 22% of all incident reports received). Whilst it is a broad demographic that attend protests, it is clear that a blanket approach is taken rather than intelligent consideration of the demographic mix. Inappropriate, over-zealous police responses frequently lead to the approach of using a “sledge hammer to crack a walnut” leaving a legacy of impaired and dangerously damaged community/police interaction in the future. In addition, the destructive narrative so readily pedaled by the police about protesters is designed to discredit them both in person at the protest and online to inflame communities thereby creating derision, division and hatred.

A phrase commonly applied to protesters of “domestic extremist” is wholly inappropriate. Inflammatory language and dangerous terminology creates an unnecessary level of response and reaction within the police attending a protest and their subsequent dealing with those individuals away from the protest environment. Frequently protesters are disregarded should they make a complaint about an incident. Protesters are targeted by suppliers, company employees and security firms – there is considerable evidence of the police ignoring complaints, twisting evidence in favour of the “company” and penalising protesters who have reported abuse or violence against them. Multiple incidents of protesters being driven at – and on occasion hit or pushed by vehicles, including lorries, have been ignored by the police – even when video evidence shows the police being present and witnessing what is happening (29% of all incidents reported to Protest Justice). There are no guidelines within your document as to how police should deal effectively with such incidents and how to demonstrate application of the law in these alarmingly common incidents. These incidents have been reported to us from a number of protests across the UK and therefore this is not an isolated behaviour. Alarmingly, the police across multiple forces are ignoring these incidents and not providing balanced protest policing, instead showing disregard of the protester’s wellbeing and bias towards the people being protested against.

Evidence gatherers should not randomly film, nor capture images, of young children who may be attending the protest with their parents. I have witnessed an evidence gatherer putting his camera close to the face of a baby in a pushchair and when the mother objected he smirked, ignored her and walked away. This is hardly balanced, community driven policing in action.

Inconsistency, depending on the mood of the Commander, creates unnecessary tension and underpins my earlier comment about police facilitating company interests. There is much evidence of inconsistency by the police at protests. The inconsistency leads to disproportionate treatment of protesters by the police which is evidenced on multiple occasions as angry, violent and abusive responses to a broad demographic, including elderly and disabled protesters being brutalised.

Frequently Legal Observers are treated disrespectfully by the police and are obstructed from being able to observe incidents effectively. Police Officers will deliberately stand in the line of sight to block their view and will refuse a protester offering “welfare” to a fellow protester involved in a non-violent, peaceful, “direct action”. The manner in which Legal Observers and Welfare are treated is often with contempt, once again not showing that people attending a protest – in whatever capacity – are treated with respect. The content of this guidance does not correspond with my experience of protest policing on the ground from multiple police forces. The guidance appears to be at odds with the embedded cultural approach of policing protests which is dangerous, imbalanced and morally corrupt.

The police attending protests need to be able to demonstrate courtesy and appropriate responses to individuals rather than take a blanket approach. Reacting to a group of elderly, disabled or young protesters in the same way as an inner-city riot does not translate as a measured, appropriate response. Similarly using “appropriate force” does not give police officers the right to assault members of the public, just because they are attending a protest. Nowhere in the document does it refer to, nor offer guidance on, the practice of making spurious, misguided, tactical “targeted arrests” which are unnecessary and designed to simply remove people from the protest and inflame a situation. Furthermore, intimidatory tactics and pressure being applied to individuals prior to protest, ie: police giving misinformation in schools prior to pupils attending climate strikes, is simply wrong.

The APP document talks about Incitement to Hatred – from our experience the police do not take seriously threats made against protesters. A common feeling is that “we are treated like second class citizens”. Where in your guidance do you instruct officers to focus on individuals as human beings rather than protesters? You specifically refer to racial and religious hatred but what about environmentalists and the hatred they are subjected to? What about those who suffer disabilities, hidden or otherwise, and are targeted? Within a protest situation these are valid considerations which must be made.

Words are all well and good but when they are ignored in practice, they mean nothing.