#004/2011 – Police are adapting their tactics to the changing nature of protests, but pace must accelerate

Police forces cannot plan for a quiet world and must swiftly adapt in real-time to protests that pose risks to public safety, a report by H.M. Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found today.

HMIC’s 2009 reports, Adapting to Protest and Adapting to Protest – Nurturing the British Model of Policing, balanced human rights with keeping the peace during the digital age, when social media and mobile phones enable demonstrators to organise and change their plans quickly.

Today’s review considers the implications of the British model, built on “toe-to-toe” policing – the principle that officers should police amongst the people without barriers or obstructions.

This approach has to-date prevailed, even during recent events, where protests escalated to include violence against officers on the ground and attacks on iconic buildings.

However, HMIC is calling for the police to remain adaptable to the changing nature of protest, and is urging the police to consider how tactics used to safeguard peaceful protest can be developed to deter those with criminal intent.

H.M. 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.

“Police tactics must be as adaptable as possible to the circumstances, and the challenge of striking the right balance between competing rights is a difficult judgment call. Commendably, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is taking up most of HMIC’s recommendations in their new training procedures. However, these changes are taking time to embed with officers; months, if not years. The new ACPO manual, finalised in October 2010, will be used as the basis for training from Spring 2011. Taking into account the time required to train officers, changes on the ground may take up to two years or more.

“Those in command of policing events must consider how to accelerate learning in order to respond to the sort of changes in protests that we have seen.”

HMIC identified in 2009 that a lack of a common view in the use of force was problematic, and recommended that ACPO, the Home Office and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) agree an overarching set of principles on the use of force that cover all circumstances of policing. This recommendation has yet to be addressed.

In an HMIC review of 45 forces in September 2009, less than 60% of forces had tested their plan to mobilise their public order resource. In December 2010, this figure remained unchanged; more than 40% of forces had not tested their plans. ACPO has identified that some forces may not have sufficient numbers of trained officers to meet a mobilisation request. By contrast, large numbers of protesters can be organised in hours, and protests can change focus in minutes through the use of social media and mobile phones. This is a considerable issue if more public order events take place in the year ahead.

HMIC’s report found that adaptability comes at a cost. Some metropolitan forces showed budget increases of between £245,000 and £636,000 between 2009/10 and 2010/11 due to the extra resources needed to police protests. One metropolitan force reported that their opportunity costs for policing student protests in November and December 2010 amounted to at least £100,000.

Sir Denis concluded, “Continuing to respond to the whole spectrum of protests is a particular challenge in austere times, when savings must be made to every police budget. The key to the police successfully adapting to the need for peaceful protest is to prevent the disorder from occurring in the first instance, where possible. Learning lessons faster and communicating better with officers on the ground, as well as with the public, will help the police minimise risk and maintain order on the streets.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. HMIC’s 2009 reports, Adapting to Protest and Adapting to Protest – Nurturing the British Model of Policing, can be found on HMIC’s website (PDF document, 4 MB).
  2. To bid for an interview with an HMIC spokesman, please contact the HMIC press office on 020 3513 0600. Outside of office hours, please call 0782 583 3222 if your query is urgent, or email hmicpressoffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk (e-mail address, 703 B).
  3. HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest and rigorously examines the effectiveness of police forces and police authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise public confidence.
  4. Further information about HMIC can be found on the website www.hmic.gov.uk.