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(en) Britain, anarchist magazine, Touch of Class #1 - PUBLIC ORDER POLICING by Andrew Todd & Edward Lynch, September 2006

Date Fri, 30 Mar 2007 08:29:58 +0300

The last twenty years have seen considerable changes in police tactics for dealing with public order and riot situations. In the 1980s and early 1990s the police were far more likely to intervene with baton charges and police horses; since the late 1990s a change in police practice has taken place ­ and some changes for the future have become apparent, as will be detailed below.
This article examines public order policing around political demonstrations and is London-centric as the Met has the dominant role in British cop strategy and
even attempts, on occasion, to take over other forces events ­ witness the G8 in Scotland.
THE POLICE PUBLIC ORDER MANUAL --- `Keeping the Peace', the Association of Chief Police Officers' public order manual, is available for all
via the ACPO website. It details the policing for all
manner of public disorder situations, from the use of
riot-kitted officers to using plastic bullets. It also sets
out the command structure ­ the famous Gold, Silver,
Bronze hierarchy ­ within which the police operate
during disorder events. This manual has undergone
considerable revision over the last fifteen years, and it
is instructive to look at some of the changes they have

Public order training has been standardised across
the UK. All cops are categorised by the amount of
public order training they get. Level 3 is the basic
which is given in Police College, around 10% of cops
get Level 2, which is 2 days every 6 months with the
requirements to run 500 metres in 2 minutes 45
seconds ­ with full riot gear and long shield.
Only the Police Service of Northern Ireland (the
renamed RUC) and the Met have Level 1 units. They
spend a day every five weeks to play at rioting and
need to run 1000 metres in 6 minutes. The Territorial
Support Group in London is around 800 strong. In
an effort to gain tactical flexibility the standard public
order unit the `Serial,' or Police Support Unit (PSU),
has been restructured to an Inspector, three Sergeants
and 18 Constables who fit neatly in three vans, each
with an extra driver to stay with the van. The happy
days of Birmingham Reclaim the Streets in 1998 where
one unknown hero let down the tires on 5 vans have
sadly gone forever. With new training have come
new weapons, the ASP extendable metal baton is less
cumbersome for van-borne cops and with less weight
allows heads to be whacked without nasty "how was
his skull fracture" Blair Peach type inquiries.
Following the political violence of the early 1990s
the police revised their tactics for dealing with riotous
crowds. The Poll Tax Riot and Hyde Park Riot of 1994
were, in retrospect, the last set-piece engagements,
where large numbers of police attempted to use the
traditional methods of baton and horse charges. As
the decade progressed it became clear that some
new minds were re-examining public order policing,
coming at it with a very different approach. Though
the first inklings of the new thinking were visible at
Waterloo in September 1992, it was not until the end
of the decade that they became standard tactics. We
refer of course to penning people in.
The cops call this strategy `Contain, Control and
Disperse' and refer it as the `bubble.' Any mention
of the word bubble by the cops should have you
looking for escape roots. Bubbles are usually easy for
the vigilant to spot but other subtle signs are cops or
cop vans with numbers starting with U - these are the
TSG and cops with brightly coloured shoulder flashes:
orange for Inspectors, lime green for Chief Inspectors
and above. These are worn on the flame-retardant
boiler suits so the plod can tell who their bosses are in
a ruck. Sometimes the top cops are just dressing up for
fun but it's usually because they mean business.
The trajectory has been, then, from a quasi-military
approach, where the riot was treated as a battle,
towards a preventative model, though one most
certainly backed up by a military machine in police
uniform. Two legal rulings which have helped underpin
the new policing have been the results of the cases
brought by those effectively kidnapped at Fairford in
2003 (Laporte v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire),
and those penned in at Oxford Circus in May
2001 (Austin v the Commissioner of Police for the
Metropolis). These verdicts, though irrelevant in some
ways, have made it far more likely that corralling
demonstrators will be the typical police response to a
public order situation likely to ascend into violence.
By penning people in, police do exacerbate the anger
of the crowd, yet leave it impotent to vent that anger
and frustration. Yet the majority of people seem to
ignore the main question, which is why they allow
themselves to be penned. It is possible to see a pen
coming. There are also ways to prevent a pen being
formed, and simple ways at that. Vigilance and
mobility are the tools people can use to stay free. An
example: during President Bush's visit to London in
2004 a demonstration assembled outside Victoria
Station. A loose line of police formed outside the
massed ranks of demonstrators. People were free to
pass through the line ­ until the organisers called on
people to move off. At this point the police closed
ranks and despite some pushing and shoving only
those who had observed the police's likely actions and
stood outside the lines remained at liberty. Had people
moved in twos and threes outside the police lines in
preparation of moving off the day could have been
saved. And similar situations have been commonplace
in recent years. Without the panoply of support which
the police have, without their communications network
or training or equipment, the only two advantages
we retain are our mobility and unpredictability.
Surrendering these, through halting, can lead to all
manner of unpleasant consequences, from penning in
to battering to arrest and possible conviction.
Penning in, though, is not the only hazard public
order policing throws up. The emergence of Forward
Intelligence Teams is another irritation to surface
in recent years. Traditionally Intelligence had been
provided by Special Branch (SO12, Specialist
Operations) but since the mid 1990's the public
order operational command unit CO11 (Central
Operations, formerly Commissioner's Office) have
been running their own overt intelligence gathering.
Each FIT consists of 2 cops working outside the Gold,
Silver, Bronze chain of command, reporting directly to
the control room at Scotland Yard. They carry cards
with photographs of known activists and spend all
day following them around, officially to stop them
doing anything naughty but actually to intimidate. It
sounds harmless enough but is incredibly annoying.
Both authors of this article are followed regularly;
once into the Royal Courts of Justice during a case
where we were suing the cops for false imprisonment.
Psychologically it's a very effective form of putting
pressure on people and some activists develop a mini-
Stockholm syndrome which combined with the strong
tendency among certain people to try to run canaries
out of the singing business gives the cops an early
The unfortunate combination of FIT, corralling and
surveillance means that at the moment the police have
the upper hand in London when it comes to public
order. This has not always been so ­ and in the future
it will change again. The Met rely heavily upon a small
coterie of officers centred on Commander Michael
Messinger (head of Public Order in the Met since 1997
and `Gold' at all major rucks since with the notable
exception of J18 which the City of London Police
thought they could handle themselves) to deal with
public order situations, the more so as `Sir' Ian Blair
has the anti-Midas touch. This coterie will not always
exist ­ they can be compared to the circles around
reforming Army officers in the nineteenth century,
which exerted but a temporary influence. And there
are signs of changes already taking place. Last year
it was announced that the Met would be getting water
cannon. This would mark a sea-change in public
order policing in this country, a move back towards the
model of the late 1980s and early 1990s with water
cannon taking the place of the short horse charge and
maintaining a zone of about 50 metres between the
police line and demonstrators.
Suggested further reading:
ACPO. Keeping the Peace (www.acpo.police.uk)
Anonymous. Poll Tax Riot: Ten Hours That Shook Trafalgar Square
(London: ACAB Press, 1990)
Richard Bessel and Clive Emsley (eds.). Patterns of Provocation:
Police and Public Disorder (Oxford: Bergbahn Books, 2000)
Court Judgements. (www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk)
Metropolitan Police met.police.uk
Gerry Northam. Shooting in the Dark: Riot Police in Britain (London:
Faber and Faber, 1988)
P A J Waddington. The Strong Arm of the Law (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991)
P A J Waddington. Liberty and Order: Public Order Policing in a
Capital City (London: UCL Press, 1994)

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