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Policewatch Films

Thursday, 26 March 2009

FITwatch suggestions for dealing with public order policing on G20 protests

Police Cordons

Cordons are used frequently by police because they are very effective at ‘shutting down’ a protest. They are uncomfortable, unpleasant and deeply frustrating.

The 'controlled area' may take the form of a metal ‘pen’ made of crowd control barriers. Where that isn’t possible, they will circle the crowd and contain it with a human barrier of police officers, if necessary wearing riot gear and using shields. They may hold the demonstration in one place or move it ‘in a controlled fashion’ to where they want it to go.

The police may keep people in a cordon for several hours. They will usually only agree to release people one by one, with each person being photographed and forced to provide a name and address.

Cordons are a huge problem to those who want to demonstrate without being under the complete control of the police, but they are difficult for activists to deal with.

Even so, some tactics have been used to challenge cordons with some success (see below). Where there is more serious disorder the police may try to disperse a crowd instead, using baton charges, shields, horses etc. Which at least has the benefit of getting you out of the cordon….

Don’t be a sheep stuck in a pen!

Prevent the cordon being formed:

Keep together, keep moving. A crowd that stays in the same place for a long time, or which is moving only very slowly is easy to cordon. A crowd that sticks tightly together and which moves quickly is much harder to control.

Keep a look out – it is usually possible to see when the police are putting a cordon in place. If you see this shout to everyone that this is happening, and encourage your group to move out of the area quickly and together.

If you are in a cordon:

Keep moving. A still, quiet, passive crowd is easy for the police to control. Getting people moving, shouting, chanting, and acting together makes it harder for the police to keep the upper hand. People have often broken out of cordons, and even metal pens, by using this tactic.

Stick together. It happens rarely in the UK, but elsewhere in Europe activists have refused to be released one by one, or to provide ID or submit to a search. By sticking together they have often forced the police to release them as a group. This can be a very effective tactic, but it relies on a sense of solidarity rarely seen in the UK! It also takes time, so you'd have to be prepared for a long wait.

If you escape the cordon:

Don’t just give up and go down the pub, especially if the night is still young! It may be possible to regroup and attack the cordon from the outside. Police do not like being outflanked and can occasionally be ‘persuaded’ to pull back and open the cordon. Failing that you can at least make some noise, stretch police resources, or simply get essentials like bottles of water to those being contained.

Snatch Squads

These are teams of TSG (Metropolitan police boot boys) who go into a crowd to make an arrest. They can operate on demos or within cordons. If you see it happen, don’t just stand and watch! Grab hold of the person they are trying to arrest and hold on! Snatch squads cannot operate if there is good crowd resistance to them, and you could save someone from violence and imprisonment.

Police Surveillance

Police use ‘overt’ surveillance by uniformed officers in Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) controlled by CO11, the Metropolitan police public order unit.

They have three key roles:

Gathering evidence They take footage from early in the day so that they can later try to use the film to incriminate people or identify them from their shoes or clothes

Data gathering They gather data on people for their protester database, so that they build up a detailed picture of which activists attend protests repeatedly. They record visual images, ID (often obtained in stop and search), ‘known associates’ and any other personal details thought to be useful

Harassment style policing When ‘known’ (see above) individuals can become subjects of what the Home Secretary described as ‘harassment style policing’. People are followed at close quarter by uniformed officers, who will listen to conversations, phone calls, and generally be intimidating and unpleasant.

Don’t be a victim

Protect your ID Hoods, sunglasses etc are useful ways of not ending up on a database. Face coverings are useful too, but can provoke a violent police response. They have the power to remove and seize face coverings.

Don’t give them your name and address There is no valid reason for the police to demand your name and address for being at a demonstration. Tell them where to go. Don’t carry bank cards or anything else with your name on, they will use this to ID you in a stop and search.

Data gather on them Take their pictures, note their numbers, send them to us at FITwatch. It sounds such a little thing, but they hate it so much.

Block that shot Stop the buggers working. Placards and banners work very well, if you ‘just happen’ to be standing in front of the camera...

Don’t let them harass people Would you normally just stand by and do nothing if you saw someone being stalked and harassed? It’s not easy to challenge the FIT when they are tailing an activist, but anything you can do to make their job more difficult is bound to be appreciated.

Covert surveillance

Police also use plain clothes police on demonstrations. Beware the person who is without a group of friends, who may be trying to stop people taking action, trying to control the crowd, or who is loudly criticising confrontational tactics. Also keep an eye on who is standing behind you when you are planning or discussing action of your own…


We need more discussion about handling public order policing. Please feel free to post your views, ideas etc on the Fitwatch blog.


Anonymous said...

Another excellent and informative article, cheers :)

As a personal observation (well, you did ask for more ideas and discussion), shopping trolleys can prove most useful in keeping police horses and their riders at bay, whilst remaining mobile.

Anonymous said...

the big wheelie bins will break up a line of coppers even they aren't brain dead enough to get in the way of one of them.

Anonymous said...

what i saw on the gaza demos was those crowd barriers being put to innovative use by being used to immobilise filth vans

Really Fit said...

This link to the earthfirst guide to public order situations was posted on the indymedia posting of this article. It seems to be a pretty good briefing.

Read it at
or download it to print here:

Dave said...

Tactics didn't work on Weds did they? Stupid students, beardies & crusties got absolutely owned by the old bill. Penned in like sheep, getting all het up and frustrated because the agro plan was foiled and you were well and truly dominated by our excellent police service. Tax payers money well spent, unlike your dole.

Anonymous said...


And what about the breakout by masked anarchists before threadneedle street?

About 30-40 anarchists marched swiftly into police lines and completely threw them before they were organised, other than the front and last lines, most got out of the cordon.

The only police response was to fall over it seemed.

Ian Tomlinson G20 Death Video said...

To "Dave": What is it that you and people like you actually stand for? Seriously?

Will the "excellent police service" protect you from corporations being given your taxes wholesale to fill their own coffers, or from being made redundant and ending up on the dole, or from climate change?

No, they will not.

I'd probably laugh at you at that point, but by then, we're all fucked anyway so there's not really much left to laugh about.

But I do wonder what it is you actually stand for, because I honestly don't have a clue.

My best guess is that you have some kind of death wish, and are only too happy to pay stacks of cash to a random bunch of companies to ensure it happens.

But surely there's a cheaper and less apocalyptic way you could kill yourself?

In fact, right off the top of my head, I've come up with an easy way you could become dead, and it won't even cost you a penny! The state even will make use of taxpayers money to help you!

All you have to do is try walking home from work near some police and they'll do the rest.

That is, if you haven't been made redundant since last week. I mean, if you don't have a job to go to, there's probably another way you could wangle it.