AFP – February 9, 2011
Police forces must adapt to handle the demands of an increasing number of protests in Britain that are putting public safety at risk, a report found Wednesday.
Many forces are unprepared to meet public order needs, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said, with more than two in five forces failing to test their mobilisation plans for policing demonstrations.
Some forces may have insufficient numbers of trained officers to respond quickly to public protests, which are being organised increasingly through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the inspectorate warned.
The report comes after police faced criticism over their handling of mass student protests last November when demonstrators piled into the Conservative Party headquarters in Millbank.
The rallies in central London, which descended into chaos, marked a shift in the intensity of public protests and “a new period of public order policing”, the inspectorate said.
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.”
The report cited Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson’s assertion following the student demonstrations that “the game has changed”.
“What seems evident is a willingness to disrupt the public and test police,” it said.
Police forces need to be flexible to tackle the large numbers of protesters which can be “organised in hours and change their focus in minutes” using social media and mobile phones, the report added.
An HMIC review of 45 forces in September 2009 found that more than 40 percent had not carried out exercises to test their mobilisation plans and in December 2010 the figure was unchanged.
The inspectorate warned, however, that increased preparedness would come at a cost.
One force said their costs for policing student protests in November and December last year amounted to at least £100,000 while other forces have increased spending on public order by up to £636,000 for 2010/11.
HMIC also criticised the The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), the Home Office and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) for failing to meet its 2009 recommendation for a common set of principles on the use of force.
Acpo said the service was “constantly adapting to the challenges posed by public order policing” but acknowledged that more work needed to be done.
Temporary Chief Constable Sue Sim, the Acpo lead on public order and public safety, said: “There is no doubt that the face and shape of protests continues to change and we continuously learn from sharing our knowledge and experience of facilitating protests across the country.
“The service has a clear commitment to ensure peaceful protest can take place and balance the rights of everyone involved – whether taking part in protest or going about their daily business.”