Public order policing in comparative perspective

3rd May 2010

3rd May 2010, Staff Room, 6th Floor Chrystal Macmillan Building, University of Edinburgh

A Knowledge Exchange Workshop co-sponsored by The Scottish Institute for Policing Research, The Public Policy Network and The University of Edinburgh

The workshop met to discuss current trends in public order policing and think through the lessons to be learned from existing research and policing experience. In attendance were 55 delegates from a range of organisations, including Central Scotland Police, Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary, Fife Constabulary, Grampian Police, Lothian & Borders Police, Strathclyde Police, Tayside Police, the British Transport Police, the Scottish Police College and nine UK universities. Over the course of the day there were presentations from police officers and academics that generated lively discussion on these issues and how best to implement the lessons learned.

Programme and Outputs

  • Dr Hugo Gorringe (University of Edinburgh), Dr Michael Rosie (University of Edinburgh), and Professor Nick Fyfe (University of Dundee/Director of SIPR), opened proceedings and welcomed participants.

  • Professor Dave Waddington (Sheffield Hallam University) began the day by outlining the changing nature and contexts of public order policing in the UK. He charted the shift in policing approaches from 'escalated force' through 'negotiated management' to 'strategic incapacitation' before suggesting that we were perhaps entering a phase of 'strategic facilitation'. He drew on a range of examples to illustrate the changing social contexts of policing and raised key questions about legitimacy and reform.

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  • ACC Fiona Taylor (ACPOS/Strathclyde Police) then gave an officer's eye view of how the fallout from the G20 affects policing in Scotland. She then illustrated current approaches to public order policing in Scotland by reference to the 2009 and 2010 SDL events in Glasgow and Edinburgh. She emphasised that the ability to police by consent depends on police legitimacy and the ability to facilitate protest.

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  • Carsten Alvèn (Stockholm Police's Dialoggruppen) then offered an insight into the background to and experiences of dialogue based policing in Sweden. He noted how important it was to generate and maintain contacts preceding any event. He emphasised the importance of transparency and trust and gave examples of events where this broke down and those where it did not. The key lessons he put forward on the basis of their experience was the need for more nuanced understandings of crowd behaviour. He observed how dialogue officers acted on the principles of information, communication, facilitation and differentiation and tried to encourage crowds to self-police. In closing he noted how other officers sometimes perceived the dialogue group as overly emphasising the rights of protest constituencies and called for more research on the impact of such innovative forms of policing.

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  • Dr Pat Cronin (University of Abertay) provided an insight into the complexities of police decision making and accountability processes. Drawing on his experience both as a senior officer and as an academic, he talked through the range of tactics available and the questions surrounding their deployment. He pointed out that there are issues of accountability both within and beyond the force and outlined four principles for public order policing: intelligence, facilitation, communication and differentiation.

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  • Hugo Gorringe and Michael Rosie (both University of Edinburgh) briefly considered police/protestor dynamics and the lessons that we can take from this. They noted that adherence to the principles of facilitation had to be factored into all aspects of policing including training and police perceptions of groups. They noted how the police can often become the focus or target of protests and emphasised the value of more flexible and responsive approaches public order situations.

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  • Professor Steve Reicher (University of St Andrews) summed up proceedings by noting that this is a critical point in time in terms of approaches to public order policing. He pointed to developments around Europe as well as the HMIC report to suggest that there has been a psychological shift in our understanding of crowds that finally lays the ghost of Le Bon to rest. He noted how a facilitative approach to policing need not be passive, 'everything goes' policing, and noted how it could lead to self-policing and enhance legitimacy. Crowds, therefore, should be seen not just as a problem but as an opportunity to alter crowd dynamics and improve relations with different constituencies. Fundamentally he emphasised that the police are part and parcel of the dynamic which determines whether a conflict escalates or not. Good policing, therefore, can turn around intractable problems. Prof Reicher suggested that an overhaul of public order policing along the lines of the four principles of education, facilitation, communication and differentiation might lead us to reconsider what we call this form of policing. Public Order in itself suggests problems. It is imperative, he argued, to interrogate every single stage of public order policing with the above principles in mind. By reference to training he noted that there is nothing wrong with what is done, but they reflect certain priorities. Finally he called on us to celebrate the huge changes that have happened and the advances that have been made in our understanding of crowd dynamics. He called for those assembled to work together on a Scottish level to develop more integrated, knowledge-led policing.

  • ACC Fiona Taylor responded briefly to Prof Reicher and others and highlighted the need for differentiation of crowds, and for recognition of how integral to any event the police are. She noted the strides that have been made in this direction and the role of ECHR in enhancing legitimacy and accountability. She pointed to the rise of the citizen journalist in this process. In closing she welcomed more research led dialogue.

The workshop on public order policing was co-organised by Hugo Gorringe and Michael Rosie and was administered by Tim Heilbronn from the Scottish Institute for Policing Research. For more details contact: H.Gorringe@ed.ac.uk or t.d.heilbronn@dundee.ac.uk