Kettling Police Powers: Netpol Conference 2012

11.00 First Panel Discussion – Total Policing: Total Lockdown?

Panel: Rob Safar, one of the Fortnum and Mason 145; Can Samet Atas, Kurdish Youth Rep (Ozgur Roni group); Amanda Jacks, caseworker with the Football Supporters Federation; Simon Natas, human rights solicitor with ITN; April James, advice worker for Advisory Service for Squatters.

Netpol – the Network for Police Monitoring – was set up three years ago, and is a partnership of different organisations. Netpol’s aims are to monitor how the police deal with communities, monitor how they go about their own monitoring, push back the growing powers of the police, and prevent these powers from being brutally exercised. Netpol have carried out legal observations and compiled reports on dozens of demonstrations. This conference is the second of its kind, and it is hoped that it will become an annual event.

The focus of the first panel is the issue of ‘total policing’. This is not an entirely new concept, as previous experiences in Belfast have shown. The panellists were invited to give their views on this subject.

AmJ:

Part of the rhetoric of total policing is a ‘war on criminals’. If you go to football matches you get the impression that there is an actual war going on. Shops are closed down, and steel barriers are erected. The police come with riot gear and dogs, and continually push, film and herd fans around. Football fans have been on the end of this type of policing for so long that it has become the norm.

A key aspect of AJ’s role in the Football Supporters Federation is to improve communications between fans and the police. She is often encouraged by meetings with senior officers, but any positive assurances given about police conduct rarely match up with behaviour on the ground. There seems to be the general assumption among the people that fans are liable to become rioters at any moment.

A huge amount of data is shared between police and the stadiums. If you are thrown out of a stadium, the police can stop you to acquire your address, and this information is held for up to ten years. The data is often sent to the home stadiums of away fans. The police have also contacted bus hire firms to prevent groups of fans making use of their services.

Arrests for football hooliganism have been going down since the mid ‘80s. Despite this, there is still a generally poor perception of football fans, aided by consistently negative media coverage. There is less reporting of police mistreatment of fans, as there is a wide assumption that such conduct is appropriate and normal, and consequently unnewsworthy.

RS:

RS found himself in a total policing situation when he was involved in the Fortnum & Mason protest. The people involved did not consider themselves to be doing anything wrong beyond civil disobedience, and so were surprised to be faced with a police kettle on leaving the store. RS was approached by an officer in riot gear, who asked him if he would be voluntarily arrested for committing criminal damage. He declined this offer, and was then grabbed by several police, leading to him being the ‘rope’ in a tug of war between police and protestors. The police then stepped up the attack by punching and kicking their targets. RS recognised then that he didn’t have a genuine choice, and so ‘volunteered’ himself for arrest.

As a result of this, he was banned from entering London for the May Day protests and the Royal Wedding. RS feels like he has missed out on the whole Occupy movement, which he would have liked to have been involved to a greater extent, but felt unable to do so as he was being watched even more. For reasons such as this, he argues it is getting harder for people to be involved in protest, as involvement in any one event can lead to a black mark against your name.

ApJ:

The term ‘total policing’ is just rhetoric; it is not a possible situation. However, it certainly does involve increased policing of the vulnerable, particularly the homeless – especially so if they are not native to this country. The concept of total policing gives opportunities to further criminalise and brutalise these people. If you are involved in dissent and resistance, the police want to crush your activities. Only the extent to which they want to do this differs, depending on the situation.

There has been a big campaign in the media against squatting, including routine referencing to ‘homeowners’ rather than ‘landlords’, the former being more suggestive of someone currently living in the building, whose personal living space has been invaded. This coverage provides the police with greater justification to act firmly against it. This is similar to how in the run-up to protests there will be many stories put out about the likelihood of violence caused by protestors; something which justifies the heavy police presence during the protest itself.

A key element of the mainstream media narrative is that the police do not have sufficient powers, are unable to act as is appropriate, their hands are tied, so therefore they should be given greater powers. Looking particularly at squatting, this is very much not the case. The only real right that squatters have is the right not to be evicted by violent means, some of the time.

Despite the common perception of squatters being criminals, they are very rarely charged and convicted with anything. Squatting is a civil matter, not a criminal offence, so should not be of any concern to the police. What typically happens is that the police will arrive at a squat saying they have suspicions that criminal damage has been committed. They will demand to be let in on these grounds, and the squatters will end up being evicted.

Such actions are likely to increase, given new legislation in section 144, making it a criminal offence to squat or intend to squat in a residential building. AJ states that the issue here is – who is being harmed by squatting? This isn’t her idea of a crime. Is it right to consider those who live in abandoned buildings as criminals?

SN:

A problem with the police declaring a war on criminals is that it’s not up to the police to decide who’s a criminal and who isn’t. A disturbing part of the rhetoric is the emphasis on the use of force rather than investigation and evidence gathering. The overall picture of total policing is of a practice based on coercion rather than cooperation.

An investigative tool like stop and search is used to intimidate and coerce. In other words, it is used unlawfully.

Regarding the topic of new police powers and where they have come from, it is worth remembering that legislation often comes from elite interests. Having said this, though, it should not be ignored that the police are also an important and powerful lobbying group themselves. For example, increased powers as part of anti-terrorism legislation, allowing for people to be held longer without charge, came about largely as a result of police pressure.

In 2003 there was a change to legislation on trespassing. Previously it was focused on open air environments, but since then it has also applied to indoor areas. It used to be a civil matter for the owner of the dwelling to sue the trespassers, but now the police can come in to prosecute – effectively acting as a free bailiff service. This change in legislation has not come from police lobbying, but corporate interests. In many cases, the police themselves are not keen on being used in this way.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) had a huge, positive impact, as it meant that police could not detain people without representation, or beat and torture them into confessing. These things still occur, but not to the scale they did beforehand. Where there is still significant cause for concern is with the actions of police on the streets, where solicitors are not present and proceedings are not (typically) filmed. In many respects, there was no difference in police behaviour in the riots of August last year compared to the Brixton riots. The Police Complaints Commission remains a joke, with one thing the police have firmly resisted being the establishment of any system which properly holds them to account.

A growing part of police activity is data-mining and the monitoring of social media and email. This is a particularly frightening part of total policing. One of its main effects is that it repels people from political action – perhaps more so than any other police methods. This influences more than just the ‘usual’ demographics who are targeted by the police, with all sorts of individuals and groups expressing concern about it, including trade unions and right-wing libertarians. They should also be part of this conversation on monitoring police powers.

12.15 Film and discussion: Newham Monitoring Project – Olympic Policing

1.15 Break Out Discussions: Olympics Policing

Already we have seen measures to enable stop and search, dispersal zones, and a ban on protest. Other big events, from the Royal Wedding to Notting Hill Carnival have sparked a wave of ‘pre-emptive arrests’. Is that what we have to look forward to? What happened to civil liberties in the wake of corporate events?

Panel: Marc Vallee, photographer and journalist; Kevin Blowe, Newham Monitoring Project

It has been widely publicised that the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act (2006) includes strict regulations that apply to ‘advertising of any kind’ in the vicinity of London Olympic events, even leaflets, posters, announcements or notices of a ‘non-commercial nature’. Section 22 does give a constable or enforcement officer the power to enter land or premises on which they reasonably believe an illegal advertisement has been placed and
‘remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article’.

However, the London Olympic Games (Trading and Advertising) (England) Regulations (2011) provides an ‘exception for demonstration’. The restrictions do not apply to ‘advertising activity intended to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons’ or to ‘publicise a belief, cause or campaign’.

Always remember the basics:

  • If arrested – no comment: you do not need to talk to the police about anything, although giving your name and address will speed up the process of being released.
  • Don’t use the Duty Solicitor – have an emergency number with you.
  • Don’t give your name and address to police if you are stopped and searched.
  • Avoid letting the police photograph you –they have no power to force you to comply with being photographed or filmed unless you are being processed at the police station.

KB:

KB begins by noting that, for both him and MV, they have a responsibility not to scare the audience when talking about this issue. An overall purpose of policing across the Olympics is the desire to make people feel too afraid to engage in any dissenting activity in the first place, so if everyone went away at the end of today with that very feeling, this would be very much in police interests.

People who live in the main areas affected by the Olympics haven’t had a say in the operations going on around their homes.

Dispersal zone powers in the Stratford area came into play on April 27th, covered by section 30 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003). These allow officers and PCSOs to remove groups of two or more people from the location for up to 24 hours, with arrest and a fine of £5k if this is refused. People who have been arrested so far have had bail conditions with strong directives that essentially remove them from an area. If you live or work in Stratford the dispersal zone laws don’t apply to you, but Stratford is already an area that draws in large numbers of people from surrounding boroughs.

There will be mobile police stations in the area, but we don’t yet know the specifics of how this is going to work.

Major things which get people into trouble when dealing with the police include not having access to legal oberservers, and talking to a duty solicitor who is unfamiliar with the relevant area of law. The right to freedom of speech shouldn’t disappear just because there is a sporting event on.

KB expects that the dispersal zone will have a disproportionate impact on young people. Much anti-social behaviour legislation is built around a fear of youth. It is to be expected that local young people will go to the area to get involved with what’s going on, and end up getting dispersed and/or arrested. Curfew powers allow officers to prohibit under 16s unaccompanied by a parent or responsible adult from public spaces in the dispersal zone between 21.00 and 06.00. At the best of times, young people regularly report that the police pick on them. This is likely to happen to an even greater degree during the Olympics.

One of our goals is to get as much information out as possible, so that people know what to expect, don’t lose their cool, and end up getting arrested unnecessarily. As many people as possible should get involved in volunteering as community legal observers.

A worrying area of uncertainty is how well trained private security guards will be at the games. There have been previous cases of security firms acting on bad information as to what is and isn’t illegal. However, it should be noted that no private security guards should be found on public land, only in the private sites.

Many of the powers and arrangements described here apply to the Paralympics as well, so they will be in existence until at least September 9th.

MV:

Since New Labour introduced it, section 44 of the Terrorism Act (2000) allowed for a huge number of people to be stopped and searched. European Law has ruled this as unlawful, because no reasonable suspicion was required for stop and search to be carried out.

The coalition government introduced section 47a in 2011, which allows a senior officer to specify a stop and search area if they ‘reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism will take place’. This is an emergency power, but the effects on the ground will be essentially the same, and take us back to where we were before.

The police have lobbied very hard for this power, but nobody has used it yet. It is unknown whether or not this will be used in connection with the Olympics, but this raises the question as to why the power has come in just before the games begin. Even if it’s not used, we should always remember that the police have a number of other powers they can use if they want to stop and search people, or to hinder their protesting.

Bob Broadhurst and Chris Allison have significant involvement in the policing across the Olympics. The Met ran a presentation listing what they regarded to be threats during the games. These were terrorism, crime, natural disaster, and protest (!).

MV argues that a clear decision has been made that the Olympics are a good thing, anyone who is against it is bad, and they will be dealt with accordingly. The media, with the exception of some stories in The Guardian, are focusing on the positive. Most journalists who attend will be there to report on the games themselves, so any protest will have to be quite significant in order to attract the attention of editors. Personally, MV will be writing and photographing any protests which occur, but whether the stories actually get published is another matter.

There will be few police inside the actual stadium, although the army will be present. The police have had to get accreditation to go inside the park, as it is private land. Any protest inside will be dealt with zero tolerance.

MV recommended everyone to print off a copy of the Met’s page on photography, and to keep it with them at all times, to show to police as a reminder of what they can and cannot do. The police often have a hostile reaction to those filming them, even though there is a common law that we are able to film and photograph in a public place.

3.00 Second Panel Discussion – Total Policing: What does it take to change?

Panel: Alfie Meadows, who was seriously injured by police during the student protests of 2010; Estelle du Boulay, campaigner against racism with Newham Monitoring Project; Sam Walton, Green and Black Cross; Kat Craig, solicitor with Christian Khan; Rebekah Delsol of Stopwatch.

SW:

We can’t turn around total policing, we can just make it less worse. The government said that the Fortnum & Mason protestors were violent hooligans, but LDMG were able to get the video of the event on to the front of the Guardian website. The footage showed it was non-violent, and that the police lied to the protestors.

FITwatch has done very good work, particularly the publication of spotters’ cards to identify members of Forward Intelligence Teams. At a recent demo the FIT spent half the time in their van, as they were changing their uniforms every 30 minutes to avoid easy identification. Therefore, although FITwatch have not brought about a change of legislation in this area, there have been noticeable and positive practical effects.

Netpol is about to launch a campaign called ‘Don’t Go On A Database’. The aim is to give people confidence to say ‘No’ to the police, and not cooperate by giving them their details when there is no legal requirement to do so.

RD:

Stopwatch had a campaign in 2005 which led to some Met boroughs making records of stop and search. In much of Europe and the US there are no statistics on things like stop and search, so they don’t have the same level of evidence to show that is used disproportionately on particular groups of people.

EB:

There are spaces where total policing can be resisted – e.g. the trial relating to Ian Tomlinson just before the games, and the anniversary of Mark Duggan’s death in August.

If the media are not covering what we want them to, we need to push the news ourselves. Gathering our own evidence is essential to this.

Much discussion of stop and search often focuses on requesting that the police are more respectful when they do it, but a better issue to focus on is whether there should be stop and search at all. A main usage of it has been surveillance.

KC:

Legal challenges can be very useful and can have an impact on the attention given to the issues in the media, but significant change does not come from legal challenges alone. There are practical limitations regarding what can be done within the law. Changes to legal aid mean there are many people who do not have the necessary access to it.

AM:

It would be very good to bring different campaigns together e.g. activist groups, community groups, monitoring groups etc. Protesting is one of the most powerful tools we have to address these issues.

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About stainesanarchists

A class-struggle collective based in and around Staines, coming together to promote community organisation and social solidarity.
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