#026/2011 A new framework is needed so police are better prepared, trained and ready to protect the public

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found police need to be better prepared, trained and ready to protect the public if they are to improve upon their response to public disorder in the report ‘The rules of engagement: A review of the August 2011 disorders’ published today.

HMIC heard of many acts of bravery by officers and commanders were thrown into managing challenging situations at short notice. But over a period of relative peace, public order policing has been eroded as a priority.

HMIC’s review found:

  • Community engagement is always the first and most effective police tactic when it comes to preventing disorder, but this faltered in Tottenham. Rumours that Mark Duggan had been “executed” were not challenged publicly by the authorities soon enough.
  • Police training, tactics, equipment and organisation, had been developed largely to deal with set-piece, single site confrontations between police and protestors. HMIC found police were, therefore, not well prepared for the widespread, fast-moving and opportunistic criminal attacks on property, loosely organised using social media.
  • While the events of last August might have been novel, HMIC warns it is likely that this pattern of criminality, or evolutions of it, will be seen again and an equally evolutionary police response needs to be developed.
  • Some of those intent on disorder discussed their plans using social media. HMIC found police made some attempts to monitor these discussions in order to better target their response. But these efforts fell short of what is possible using modern technology.

The police response in future should still be comprised of police officers who are normally engaged in other, day-to-day duties. HMIC found that a faster response may be possible through more integrated local, regional and national processes, and practice. They must be fully trained and able to switch from roles that require largely individual action and initiative, to disciplined and co-ordinated collective, public order actions.

Collective action will demand common national standards for training, co-ordination, command and tactics. When a rapid and effective mobilisation must be deliverable across the country, the local variations that HMIC found cause unacceptable weaknesses in the response.

Even if police improve the speed of their mobilisation, there will always be a delay in reaching the scene in significant numbers. In extreme circumstances, where life is threatened and police numbers alone are not sufficient, police commanders must be equipped to respond with extraordinary measures. These measures are set out in manuals but police are not currently equipped or trained to deliver them in practice. There needs to be a public debate as to where and when police tactics involving protected vehicles, water cannon and AEPs are acceptable. This needs to be informed by what is practical, affordable and likely to sustain public support.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, said:

“Although their initial response was hesitant, the police regained control of the streets and brought the summer disorders to an end. The approach to restoring order needs to change to enable a speedier self assured response where the threat to the public demands it.

“An overwhelming majority (83%) of respondents to our survey thought police action helped to bring the riots to an end; but 60% stated that this could have been done more quickly. Half (49%) though the police did not use enough force and 43% thought that what they did was “about right”.

“The style of policing used on the streets needs to be affirmed through Rules of Engagement, that acknowledge the law and that are agreed by debate between the police service and politicians. This should set out the circumstances in which a range of tactics can be considered.

“Rules of Engagement should be part of a new national framework for resolving public disorder that sets out clear expectations around the early resolution of disorder and details of the planning required to ensure forces are prepared for national disorders.”

HMIC found the need to develop police tactics, training and mobilisation:


  • Community engagement – always the first step in preventing disorder – faltered in Tottenham. Rumours that Mark Duggan had been “executed” were not challenged publicly by the authorities soon enough.
  • Police capability to anticipate disorder by, for example, monitoring social media was ad-hoc and limited.
  • While some forces mobilised rapidly, others were slow to do so. It took many hours to mobilise officers in strength particularly in London.
  • Assistance between forces was often ad-hoc or informal and the call for national assistance was not triggered early enough. Although there had been some testing of mobilisation it was inadequate preparation for the reality that officers faced in August.


  • Although current guidance sets out a range of tactics for dealing with disorder, not all of these could be used in practice due to a lack of equipment and the number of officers deployed. For example: some forces ran out of shields, and some vehicles did not have sufficient protection (reinforced glass or steel grilles); and police estimate they need to outnumber rioters by between three and five to one if they are to make arrests and disperse groups – this meant that arrest tactics were impossible in some circumstances.
  • Views were expressed by senior politicians that police tactics were not robust enough, and a survey carried out as part of this review showed that those most directly affected were more likely to share this opinion.
  • Officers and their commanders took action to bring the disorder to an end but some erred on the safe side, using less forceful tactics, standing their ground rather than going forward to tackle disorder, pending arrival of reinforcements.


  • Some officers and commanders were uncertain about the tactics and level of force that can be used lawfully during disorder. Police had not practiced tactics of “going forward” to secure arrests.

HMIC is recommending that there should be a new national framework for resolving public disorder with:

  • clear objectives for early resolution (if disorder occurs); and
  • an agreed envelope of available tactics and associated use of force, that are likely to maintain public support, set out in Rules of Engagement.

This would be supported by:

  • Decisive resolution of police and IPCC communication arrangements to be used in the event of deaths attributable to the police.
  • A central information ‘all source’ hub – to draw together all available information, including direct contact with members of the community and monitoring social media, to help anticipate disorder.
  • Mobilisation arrangements that include: enabling forces to bolster their visible presence on the streets; target times to “stand up” resources; integrated regional and national plans; testing; and examination of possible military support for police functions that do not need to use force.
  • Review of tactics – to identify useable “go forward” tactics informed by the law.
  • Training – provide officers with realistic scenarios.

Such a strategic framework could add substance to the public order reference in the Strategic Policing Requirement in the same way that CONTEST and “Local to Global” do for terrorism and organised crime.


Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the report can be found on the HMIC website
  2. In a speech on 16 August the Home Secretary said: ‘Many people in the room today will know that HMIC have been reviewing public order policing since 2009. Their last report, published earlier this year, established that we are in a new era of public order policing – one that is faster moving and more unpredictable – and that police tactics will have to be as adaptable as possible to keep up. Following last week’s events, I have written to Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and asked him to provide clearer information to forces about the size of deployments, the need for mutual aid, pre-emptive action, public order tactics, the number of officers trained in public order policing, and an appropriate arrests policy.’
  3. HMIC visited 5 forces that experienced various levels of disorder: West Yorkshire Police; West Midlands Police; Greater Manchester Police; Nottinghamshire Police; and the Metropolitan Police Service
  4. The HMIC Report – Adapting to Protest was published on 7 July 2009. Conducted at the request of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, this review looked at the policing methods used on 1 April 2009 during the G20 summits in London. Adapting to Protest – Nurturing the British Model of Policing was published on 25 November 2009, and asks the question “How best should the police as a service adapt to the modern day demands of public order policing while retaining the core values of the British model of policing?”
  5. CONTEST is the government’s counter terrorism strategy. “Local to Global” is the government’s organised crime strategy.
  6. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Transport Police.
  7. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600.
  8. HMIC’s out of hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.