Thursday, November 26, 2009

G20 report lays down the law to police on use of force.

MP's have already produced their own critical report on the policing of the G20 summit, so the latest report into police handling of that protest from Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, is not saying anything that hasn't been said before, but it is notably critical of the police handling of the incident, calling for a police service which is "anchored in public consent".

O'Conner has used his report to demand wide-ranging reforms and a return to an ideal of policing based on "approachability, impartiality, accountability and … minimum force".

O'Connor warned of a "hardening" of policing style in recent years and the erosion of the British approach to policing developed by the 19th-century prime minister Sir Robert Peel and based on consent.

He criticised the way officers were trained for the use of force, saying they wrongly believing "proportionality" means "reciprocity". Through the ranks, there was a failure to understand the law on policing protests. O'Connor said the lack of national standards meant that a high-profile area of policing had been treated as a "Cinderella" subject with inconsistencies from force to force.

He called for ministers to endorse and vocally support a consent-based approach ahead of the Olympics in 2012, when British policing will be on show to the world.

"It is time now for us to put the British model back on the table. The Home Office should be concerned by this drift, because members of the public are and I am trying to react to that," he said.

"Every police initiative, every decision about equipment should be examined to see if it complies with the principle of policing by consent … we are in danger of being left with a shadow of what we had, asking ourselves: where did it go?"

O'Conner has done well to articulate what many of the public feel. There was widespread reaction to the way that the police handled the G20 summit with many feeling that they were behaving as if protest itself was a form of lawbreaking.

And the very fact that this report has been welcomed across the political spectrum says quite a lot about just how much the police alienated public opinion with the death of Ian Tomlinson and the other shocking images which came out of that protest and the police's handling of that event.

The proposals include:

• Immediate action from the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to issue guidance to all 44 police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that ensures they facilitate peaceful protest in a consistent way.

• The creation of a set of fundamental national principles on the use of force to cover all police business, emphasising "minimum use of force" at all times.

• Radical change in public order training, with an emphasis on teaching the 22,500 officers who receive basic protest training how to manage peaceful activists.

• A shakeup of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to make it transparent and accountable. He highlighted Acpo's three "domestic extremism" units, which collate information on thousands of activists and which, the Guardian revealed last month, were receiving £9m from the government.

The police's handling of the G20 summit protesters was heavy handed and provocative. The practice of "kettling" was disgraceful. The police at the time claimed that what happened was the result of too many "inexperienced youngsters" being amongst their ranks on that day. Whatever lay behind it, this latest report makes it very clear; it must never happen again.

The prime minister acknowledged public anger over police behaviour. Speaking for the first time about Tomlinson's death, Brown said: "I know that the events at the G20 caused a great deal of anger and sadness for people when we had the casualty. It is important that policing is of the best and where mistakes are made or there are question marks they have to be answered."

Several police associations gave their support to O'Connor's findings, including Acpo, which said the report would "shape the future of public order policing". Climate Camp, the UK's largest environmental protest group, said the proposals were "a huge leap forward".

We are accustomed to report's which whitewash every police action and seek always to portray the police as acting honourably and to deflect any blame for violence towards the protesters themselves. It says a lot about what happened on that day that this report does not seek to do that and that it even gets the support of several police associations as it apportions the blame towards police behaviour.

That's highly unusual and it is to be welcomed.

Click here for full article.

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