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Sunday, 28 June 2009

Predatory policing

This is the article that appeared as a Comment is Free peice on the Guardian website

As my arrest and imprisonment demonstrates, the preventative policing model is a licence to harass legitimate protesters
Fit Watch was formed in response to more than 10 years of harassment and intimidation of protesters by the Forward Intelligence Teams (Fit). Employing a range of tactics from blocking police cameras to monitoring their activities, we knew it would make us more unpopular than we already were with the Fit. However, the stifling effect of their presence at protests and meetings meant it was a necessary step.
I first became aware of Fit in 2001. Fit officers were taking photographs outside meetings, and then greeting me by name in crowds of thousands of people. Before long, they were at every meeting, every demonstration, calling me by name, making derogatory comments, and following me long after a protest had finished.
During 2002, they arrested me four times in three months, raided my house, seized my personal diaries and tried very hard, but unsuccessfully, to have me remanded.
None of the charges came to court, and eventually I received compensation. However, I was driven so far over the edge I ended up drinking heavily to the point I broke down and was admitted to hospital, vomiting blood, on a drip and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics.
It never occurred to me to challenge this policing – even ending up in hospital didn't make me realise we needed a collective response. And my experiences, although extreme, were by no means isolated. Many people had breakdowns, or simply withdrew from political activity because they couldn't deal with the levels of police harassment.
The police have always sought to justify their actions against me, and others like me, on the grounds we are the nasty protesters – the ones they warn about when they spin media stories about hardcore troublemakers arriving at climate camps. This subtext was made crystal clear at our bail hearing after the Kingsnorth incident – the crown prosecutor described us as "violent" and said the "police were anxious" we would go back to the camp, "create disorder" and "put people in fear of mental and physical injury". However, as the video shows, we did nothing other than try to monitor the policing operation.
As the dust settles from the G20, and various bodies compile their reports into public order policing, it is this arbitrary distinction between good and bad protesters that is likely to be drawn. The distinction is subjective, based on dubious assumptions and police "intelligence", details of which are near impossible to access and challenge.
I know I'm not a violent troublemaker. In simplistic terms, I believe a better world is possible, and that real changes – whether it be women winning the vote, the abolition of the poll tax or the fight against environmental destruction – only occur when people stand together, say no and have a direct impact. Refusing to accept the police's parameters for protest is not being a bad protester – it is an essential part of effective dissent.
While the preventative policing model remains – including use of Fit tactics, systematic stop and searches, kettling people for hours without access to food, water or toilets and baton charging anyone who dares leave – there will continue to be civil liberties abuses at protests. Arresting, harassing and imprisoning people because they might commit an offence is not acceptable whatever their political beliefs, and it is essential we stand together to resist this form of policing.


Anonymous said...

Can you enlighten me to a workable alternative please, honestly, no judgement, just interested..

Anonymous said...

Really Fit:

I think that's a well written and compelling article.


A workable alternative to what? To the use of harassment policing against those carrying out activities of political belief or conscience?

Anonymous said...

Bristle, I'm trying to have an informed debate. If you have nothing more than moronic swipes to make at me then please jog on. I would hope that anyone with the intelligence to use a computer would be able to work out that my request was genuine. The police used these tactics originally to try to prevent actual crime at demo's. That is their job, and it wont change. So how else can they effectively go about it without employing these tactis, I'm not justifying their use either, I know I'm not expressing my point well, but hopefully you'll understand what I mean..

scunnert said...

Great article and spot on.

Anon - if the police would confine their efforts to fighting crime rather than dissent they might get some respect.

dawmdt said...

I've been following this blog and many similar related stories (use of Terrorism powers for stop & search etc) with great interest for a while.

Normally, people like you and I would be at diametric poles... in the past I would sneer about "bloody protesters" and even use media favourite phrases such as "the great unwashed". Hell, I even work for one of those evil banks (and I work for the evillest one of all in the UK, if the press are to be believed!) My politics are slightly right of centre (although I've always been a firm supporter of equal rights and a right to peaceful protest), yours I'm guessing hover somewhere a little more left.

My point is this - even I am starting to get hacked off with the Police. Their new powers and their abilities to abuse them and what appears to be a constant stream in the informed press about how they've beaten or very badly treated people for doing nothing more than being extremely outspoken. And let's not even get into abuse of powers over tourists taking photographs or random stop and searches of "potential terrorists" - although I've never actually been a victim. Them refusing to supply their identification as they are required to do is one step closer to being even more frightening. If two people with normally such opposite views on things like policing and protest can start to agree on these things in such a pro-active manner then I think it really demonstrates the police have really lost their control and with it the respect of the population. The frightening thing is, the response seems to be to escalate, push harder and laugh harder at the things supposed to control them like the IPCC - not a genuine proper review of things. The words of people such as Lord Carlisle just seem to fall on deaf ears.

So what do we do about it? Just for once I want to associate myself with those I used to call "the great unwashed" and sort this problem out before we truly descend into shit. I have no faith in any of our NGO's to resolve anything. I see the ACLU taking police and state to court on behalf of victims in the US when something like this happens. I see Liberty gearing up another soundbite for the press and rolling out Shami Chakrabarti for 3 minutes on Newsnight.

What's the plan people? It's time to make a stand before it gets really bad and so people can go on living their lives normally. I want to go into work into my cosy office job every morning knowing that the world is still moving in a fair and sensible way and not so I start to see the law enforcers as an untrustworthy "them and us" situation... and the less said about the current parliament allowing them to get away with this, the better.

Anonymous said...

here's a plan, Mr. Scrubbed and Dusted

Go and relieve yourself of the notion that those who are aware of the state's need to suppress dissent and protest are somehow unwashed.

I for my part will try to unravel my hard won understanding that usury is only practised by venal subhumans. Maybe we can find a middle ground.

Anonymous said...

Ok scunnert, to push a little more, if graffiti, criminal damage or assault (real crimes) are committed during demo's the police are required to attempt to place those responsible before a court, is this acceptable in your model for policing of dissent?

scunnert said...

Anonymous said...
"Ok scunnert, to push a little more, if graffiti, criminal damage or assault (real crimes) are committed during demo's the police are required to attempt to place those responsible before a court, is this acceptable in your model for policing of dissent?"

28 JUNE 2009 15:35

Of course this is acceptable in my model. But that's not why the police show up at climate camps. They show up to intimidate and harass people for daring to dissent.

Here - have a look:

Anonymous said...

Ok scunnert, i accept that, in bringing those offenders to court should the police use photo's or film to provide evidence to the court?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the primary purpose of a Police Force is to PREVENT crime. This is not new – it always has been. So unless instructed otherwise Police will monitor those with history of criminal acts in order to prevent them committing more.
If that fails then they will use investigative powers to PURSUE and PROSECUTE those who have committed crimes.

Reason said...


dawmdt said...

Anonymous said...

"here's a plan, Mr. Scrubbed and Dusted

Go and relieve yourself of the notion that those who are aware of the state's need to suppress dissent and protest are somehow unwashed."

I think if you read my original post properly, you'll see I've already done that... what do you want, an apology for once being ignorant over something? We'd all be apologising every day for something if that was the case!

"I for my part will try to unravel my hard won understanding that usury is only practised by venal subhumans."

I didn't come on here for a discussion on the banking system and it's rights\wrongs\merits\failures - I'm sure there's an appropriate forum or blog somewhere for that and that's a fight for another day... keep your war on one front at a time, maybe we'll find a way to deliver a coherent message to the masses. I came here to add my disapproval to current police tactics and powers. Maybe one day I'll review my position on banking, free-trade etc and maybe I'll agree with you and maybe I won't - but right now that's not what I'm worried about. I may or may not support the subject of any protests but I do support the right of the average person to go about their business without harassment and ridicule by a police force that's losing it's grip on reality.

"Maybe we can find a middle ground."

That was what I came here for - a middle ground for two people who'd more often than not would never see eye to eye but who appear to agree on a big issue. I came here to find out what I can do to do my bit for bringing in greater control and accountability of the police, to find out why our NGO's in these areas seem to be so piss poor. Now, are you done with the taunting ("Mr Scrubbed and Dusted" :P ) and are you willing to accept the fact that I've accepted I was ignorant over some issues? Are you willing to accept that perhaps the police's actions are starting to convince people who normally wouldn't associate themselves with "dissenters" (for whatever their reasons) to your way of thinking and are you willing to accept them as allies in this issue or do you want to ignore the support that's starting to trickle through from the masses and perhaps even alienate it with insults and historical mistrust? Probably afterwards we'll go our separate ways, disagreeing sometimes, agreeing others and all having learnt a little something about each other's views but right now this is one of the big issues where the police and the politicians are starting to lose the battle and it's time to press that advantage not fight with each other. Agreed?

jonsparta said...

For the most part the way the police has worked in the last twenty years, has been based on Wilson and Kellings Broken Window theory. There was an attempt to move the police to solely investigating crime but the almost immeasurable preventing crime task has been brought back to the front of policeing.

A word on kettling, if the police cant use that tactic they may return to snatch squads. I would never want that, and either do the officers i work with.

As a historian dissent often grows most when times are hard. This is particularly true when we entery a period of economic problems. The police and policing are not popular topics until people start losing jobs. Simple facts, think of the problems in the 1980's. When the good times coem back, this sort of issue will disappear.

Funny that you think police powers have grown. On paper i would agree but in day to day work of a bobbie we are more and more constrained. I have stated this fact on this board before and no one could answer it. When i was at uni, they stated that PACE Act 1984 was the big change that helped the police to tackle crime and to improve crime fighting in every way. Like the Human Rights Act it only serves the criminals. One example i will use, we all know that the rape convictions at court are appalling, the charges by CPS whilst suspects are in police cells are at their most lowest in recorded history.

So lets compare before PACE ACT, in the year before the act came in it was aroung 35-40% convction at court. Today it is down to 8%. For me we have to many laws, that help to defend and protect criminals and not the public.

I am sorry that the writer had a break down and turned to drink. I hope you are getting the huge amount of help that our privileged criminals get.

If you want to understanding policing today, you need to look at the many models, intelligence-led, community, military the list goes on....

jonsparta said...


dawmdt said...

jonsparta said...

"A word on kettling, if the police cant use that tactic they may return to snatch squads. I would never want that, and either do the officers i work with."

You mean like this?

"As a historian dissent often grows most when times are hard. This is particularly true when we entery a period of economic problems. The police and policing are not popular topics until people start losing jobs. Simple facts, think of the problems in the 1980's. When the good times coem back, this sort of issue will disappear."

It's funny you should say that, despite the iffy economic situation, I've been quite lucky and have been completely unaffected so far. Yet in the last 12 months my views have shifted vastly against police tactics from one of (almost) total trust and support of the police.

I'd like to see you provide a "police level analysis" of things like the Kingsnorth arrests in the video - why do you believe they were they actually arrested? Despite the bollocks said in court it seems nothing more than a childish lashing out at people that like to keep an eye on things. Why did that police officer refuse to give his number? What level of discipline do you think is appropriate for somebody doing that? Do you think all the police acted appropriately and why?

Maybe the problem is there are too many laws protecting criminals... but it seems to me that the police are taking out their frustrations in this regard onto the people who seem to have no laws protecting them - the innocent public! Until such time police are properly disciplined and held accountable (and I'm not talking about a couple of weeks of unpaid leave) for acts such as those video'd in Kingsnorth, I can't see it improving either.

Anonymous said...


Indeed - I retract unconditionally the verbals above. No progress will come from sniping like that. I can only now say that of course I do welcome a change of view, or heart or indeed of mind in the sense that people are beginning to see, that although the police force does perform the necessary task of ensuring that the law is upheld, that they are also being increasingly used as a paramilitary force by, and in support of, unpopular governments and their machinations i.e. murderous wars of invasion - which are completely and unequivocally criminal acts, in fact. At this stage the police and anti-terror bodies should be apprehending these political miscreants and shipping them off to the Hague or Gitmo - but no - they prefer to arrest and harrass those who are moved to peacefully act against the murderers.
It's simple enough.

jonsparta said...

lol. thats not a snatch squad, christ if you saw how it was done you would understand. A snatch squad was used mostly in Northern Ireland. Its basic tactic is to had a group of officers run into the middle of the crowds from using running lines. They mostly carry round shields not the long ones. They then surround the person until the three running lines catch up and set up the three lines in front of the squad. It was used very well at Bradford riots but in a protection use. A couple of lads had been set upon and the tactic was used to stop them from being killed by the rioting local asain youths.

It's funny you should say that, despite the iffy economic situation, I've been quite lucky and have been completely unaffected so far.

I am glad you still have a job, where i police is a very poor run down area with little in the way of help. Could you spare some money and time to help those people out? I volunteer at local agencies... i am going to place your comments on another message board, it for people that have lost their jobs.

will get back to you on the other issues, once i have seen the unedited video...also i have to go out...

Really Fit said...

Dawmdt, your posts flag up the fact that distrust and dislike of some of the current policing methods is not something that is confined to protesters or those on the left. But whatever political perspective we come from, there is still the problem of how we can make change.

It is not a matter of finding an 'alternative' necessarily (anon 12.14). You don't need an alternative to carrying out unlawful arrests; making up assaults on police that never happened; hitting people who have not used violence; placing people who are not criminal under surveillance. I'd just like these things to stop!

Seeing a problem is one thing, solving it is another. Judging from comments on this blog, change certainly won't be pioneered by the police themselves.

Speaking personally, I don't believe there are any quick fixes. Certainly not voting for another party, or getting some MP's to write a report. FITwatch was started because a few of us thought that ordinary people like us could make a difference, simply by saying 'no, we're not going to be pushed around any more'. And I think we have.

FITwatch is a strategy of taking action - whether that is actively monitoring the activities of the FIT, or actively challenging their surveillance of political protest. That is one of the key things that has made the initiative so successful. Admittedly we still have a long way to go...

We don't have a monopoly on good ideas though. Personally I'm more than happy to work with other initiatives, groups or individuals who want to take these issues on.

Anonymous said...

We have been treated to an international comparitor today over in Calais – One wonders if the French will conduct a G20 type enquiry into the way the CRS delt with the ‘no borders’ protesters?

Anonymous said...

This from the Lib dems is some of the most sensible I have seen so far:-

.... we need a debate about how tolerant we want to be towards protest. An urgent attempt needs to be made to outline what constitutes legitimate protest, clearly and separately considering the appropriate application of the terms 'peaceful' and 'lawful'. This is crucial if we are to move to a more proportionate model of public order policing, whereby demonstrations are policed according to the threat they pose to public safety, with a presumption (as recommended by the Lords and Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights in its recent report) in favour of the right to protest non-violently.

Precisely because this is such a political decision, it is unfair in my view to leave it to senior police officers to make the call. We owe both chief constables and peaceful protestors more clear-cut guidance on lawful protest, which is one reason why we believe that there should be a judicial inquiry into the G20 protests that is specifically empowered to make recommendations on the legal situation.

Clovis said...

Anon 1214

If the police would like people from Fitwatch to help them with their protest policing, they could at least have the decency to do it officially.


Welcome aboard! While I see quite a few people coming over to our point of view, I don't see any new people being attracted to the police version. As you point out, the police abuse of powers doesn't simply affect people on demonstrations - the same abuses of powers can now affect people from all backgrounds going about their lawful business, from young people walking down the street to people enjoying a quiet drink in the park. The constant abuse you'll see here from officers of the law will likely confirm you in your impression of a force out of control.

observer said...

Police in uniform are found to be unaccountable!
Can anyone (you cops on this blog) enlighten me as to the identity of these two hooligans, and what they got up to and who was assaulted by their weapons. They seem closely associated with the FIT.
And if you were one of the uniforms, would you not arrest them? None of the uniforms in the video seems that bothered. And then you wonder why the public are losing faith in the police.
The problem is that you plod reading this are associated with these unaccountable trouble-makers, and they are drawn from your own ranks.
If a member of the public were to see or be assaulted by these armed men, what should they do, call the police?

Anonymous said...

I found this site after seeing it discussed in the Daily Mail - I have to say I can see the police point of view just by reading some of the disgustiong biggoted posts here - what is the world coming to when you take your right to free speech and waste it on cant like this!

Aran said...

hi dawmdt,

I'm glad you see there is a problem. If you are serious about helping to stop it then you could be very helpful. Coming out to protests fully suited and monitoring police with a camera would be very helpful, the police would probably back off a bit from you seeing as you are a banker and therefore able financially to defend yourself. Also funding the legal fees of people suing the police would help stop the abuse of there powers.

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Anonymous said...

I see the police continually and almost desperately trying to convince us that they are right and do nothing wrong.
Panorama tonight highlighted this very well in the comments made by senior police officers.
The police in this country have traditionally been held in high regard world wide for thier style of policing and hands off approach, that reputation is now decidely on the decline and sadly more so on the home front.
The general public have an increasing mistrust of the police and frankly it is not difficult to see why.
I have seen calls for FIT to be disbanded and reigned in, frankly this woudl only lead to their reincarnation under another guise and in the end nothign woudl actually change.
Police tell us they need the powers and methods in order to be successful in managing events and policies, what they have failed to realise is one very simple fact.
Those directly affected by these methods have long voiced concern and that concern is now slowly but surely spreading to the general public.
Misuse of powers has brought the spotlight firmly onto to the police who to me at least it appears they have now shot themselves in the foot.
Those powers and methods they are now trying to convince us are of such great importance to them are more than likely to be curtailed in a significant manner.
When the time comes and they actually do need those powers and methods they could be looking at a closed door with them on the worng side of it.
I dont necessarily agree with the tactics of FITWATCH but i can fully understand why, the police really do need to wake up sooner rather than later on this and adopt changes that will satisfy their genuine need to fight crime instead of the currrent policy of criminalising innocent people.