Sunday, April 19, 2009

IPCC chief slams tactics of G20 police at demo.

Nick Hardwick, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC),has slammed the police for their behaviour during the recent G20 protests and has especially questioned the "unacceptable"practice of officers removing their number badges before facing protesters, a practice which hinders identification of officers who attack the general public; indeed, a practice which many of us would argue shows an intent to behave badly.

Hardwick has called for a public debate over how the police behave in such circumstances and has reminded the police that they were "the servants not the masters" of the people.

He is also seeking the necessary resources for the watchdog to conduct more investigations independently from police - as it is doing over the death of Ian Tomlinson, the news vendor who died after being caught up in the G20 protests - and expanding its remit in cases where there is evidence of wider systematic problems.

The latest investigation concerns a 23-year-old man who claims to have been assaulted by a Metropolitan police officer in the early evening of 1 April at a police cordon on Cornhill in the City of London, adding to two existing investigations into the death of Tomlinson and claims by a woman activist that she was attacked.

Hardwick told the Observer the latest case would "not necessarily" be the last taken up by the IPCC, which is still sifting almost 90 complaints about the use of force and examining CCTV footage.

He made clear his concerns about incidences of officers disguising their identifying numbers, which should always be displayed on the shoulders of their uniforms, arguing that colleagues should have reported such wrongdoing.

"I think that raises serious concerns about the frontline supervision," Hardwick said. "Why was that happening, why did the supervisor not stop them? What does that say about what your state of mind is? You were expecting trouble?

"I think that is unacceptable. It is about being servants, not masters: the police are there as public servants."

He said such infringements were within the IPCC's remit "and we will deal with it".

New footage seems to be emerging almost daily of the police apparently randomly assaulting protesters.

Now, the G20 protesters aren't people who normally elicit much public sympathy, but that's beside the point. No matter what one thinks of the G20 protesters, we live in a democracy where protest is allowed. And the number of cases - on film - of the police assaulting various women and the Evening Standard newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson leave no doubt that the police were behaving in a worrying manner.

Indeed, it is the new technology which is making the police behaviour impossible to deny and most of the complaints, according to Hardwick, are coming from people of middle class backgrounds who previously held the police in very high esteem.

He also said that the number of people who had filmed the protests on their mobile phones was proving a key factor in helping the IPCC determine whether complaints made against the police had any legitimacy.

He told the Observer: "What's been important with all these pictures is we have got such a wide picture of what happened.

"I think that is challenging the police. They have to respond to the fact that they are going to be watched, there is going to be this evidence of what they have done."

Mr Hardwick also said that typical complainants of police behaviour were from middle-class backgrounds, who did not previously have a jaundiced view of the police.

"If you are Mr and Mrs Suburban who have a good view of the police and think they do a good job, and they stop you and swear at you, then you are shocked and you complain."

And Hardwick raises the serious question of how the police should protect the right of people to protest where there is a small element determined to cause trouble.

It is undeniable that such an element was present during the G20 protests. This was obvious from the way they hid their faces behind scarves and bandanna's; for the exact same reason that some officers removed their number badges: because they intended to do things for which they did not want to be identified.

However, because of the presence of that small trouble making element, the police appear to have given themselves permission to view all of the protesters as if they were out to disrupt the peace, which was not the case.
"It's got to be a democratic political question about how do we want to be policed? I think that needs a proper parliamentary discussion. The choices we make as a society about that aren't consequence-free. There are tricky balances to be struck."
It's a very good question and Hardwick is right to point out that balances need to be struck.

Most of us understand how difficult a job the police have in such circumstances. And it was certainly clear to many of us that there was an element of the G20 protesters who were out to create trouble. However, the people who were not out to disrupt - and certainly Ian Tomlinson who was assaulted as he made his way home - did not deserve to be treated as if the were on the verge of causing public disorder.

And we certainly can't have a police force which removes identification tags before engaging with the general public.
The IPCC has received more than 185 complaints about the G20 protests, of which 44 are not eligible for consideration, including complaints from people who saw footage on TV. Around 90 complaints about use of force included witness accounts as well as those from alleged victims.
It is said that Sir Paul Stephenson, the new commissioner, is ready "to kick some ass". It's not before time. Public confidence in the police appears to be at a new low.

Click title for full article.

No comments: