Short Life Working Group on Facilitating Peaceful Assemblies: report

The Short Life Working Group on Peaceful Processions in Scotland has reviewed processions in Scotland. The report uses the comparison between Northern Ireland and Scotland as a basis to discuss how well the legislative framework and related processes are working in Scotland.

12. Police resources and community 'policing'

12.1 A police service in the UK is asked to 'keep the peace' and be arbiters of public order. They also work under the broad model of 'policing by consent'. This lays heavy responsibility on a police service and, as can be seen from numerous examples (good and bad), policing crowds, processions and protests is a highly skilled job. Perhaps the experience most citizens have of the police is through the policing of large events. As such, public order policing, in some measure, defines the public's view of their police. Even more importantly the policing of large events can involve decisions that have life and death consequences. The consequence of an event that goes wrong can be enormous.

12.2 It takes only a cursory view of the history of policing in Northern Ireland to understand why getting 'public order policing' right is so important. There is a large body of academic and policy research into public order policing and tactics used are regularly discussed in the news. Good public order policing requires experience, good resourcing, clear decision-making and clear mechanisms of accountability. Most police services should now routinely use mechanisms of de-escalation.

12.3 Public Order policing is expensive and resource intensive. There is an understandable tendency that commanding officers will want to feel that they have the resources to deal with all potential scenarios. In the discussions the working group has had we have heard a number of people complain about 'over policing'.

12.4 We are not experts on policing, but we do have some observations. There is always a tension when policing large events between public order, public safety and policing with the community. Police officers never look less like they are working with the community than when they are on the streets working in full public order gear. And public order events themselves take resources from other aspects of policing. Again, this is a tension that all senior police officers are aware of.

12.5 We would like to examine this from another perspective which allows an alternative way of viewing policing. The Patten Review of Policing in Northern Ireland suggests that community policing is:

'7.3 … the police working in partnership with the community; the community thereby participating in its own policing; and the two working together, mobilising resources to solve problems affecting public safety over the longer term rather than the police, alone, reacting short term to incidents as they occur.' (p.40)

12.6 What might 'the community thereby participating in its own policing' mean when looking at public order policing? Let us give three examples from Derry/Londonderry and then expand that to a broader policy basis:

i. We have heard from the Apprentice Boys of Derry in Derry/Londonderry and in Scotland about the importance of training their own stewards. This was a proactive approach taken by the Apprentice Boys in Derry from about 2000 which in the longer term has played an important role in reducing policing required at their events. It also has the advantage of developing skills and training amongst their membership that can be used by members in other arenas.[104]

ii. The Londonderry Bands Forum worked with bands and the loyal orders within the city to produce 'The Maiden City Accord'.[105] This document is introduced by its authors as follows:

Much of what appears in the Maiden City Accord is not new, but for the first time has been set out in a form that defines the role that each individual group is responsible for in relation to the structure, spectacle and management of each given procession, commemoration or parade.

It has been identified that the values and dignity of the various historical events commemorated by the Protestant culture have been eroded by years of conflict, and as a group we have created the Maiden City Accord in order to restore these values and dignity back to the top of our priority.(p.1)

What follows in the document is a very clear articulation of when members of the marching organisations in the area expect of themselves and, importantly, what others should expect of them. Put another way, this is a group of citizens wishing to assert their rights to parade but also outlining the responsibilities that come with those rights.

iii. We have discussed above the very difficult context around parading in Derry/Londonderry throughout the 1990s. Issues were overcome with significant efforts on all sides, with significant involvement of the business community and civic society and the use of a number of mediators over the years. This has been described as 'the Derry model' and is an example of citizens taking responsibility for the protection of rights without directly involving the institution of the police.[106]

12.7 The working group has concluded that there are a number of ways in which communities, relevant groups and civic authorities can be resourced in order to reduce the need for public order policing. This is about our citizens being engaged in the rights and responsibilities that come with the right of peaceful assembly and not leaving the job of policing with one policing institution. In the longer term, such resourcing can be cost effective. It might include: training for stewards;[107] the resourcing of organisations to undertake steward training; funding for organisations to develop skills including in communication and engagement; the development of mediation practice across society; the involvement of citizens in decision-making and event facilitation; training in human rights and policing; support for political activism. Such funding offers a community policing alternative to the deployment of public order resources and thus potentially saves money. It also underpins the State's commitment to protecting the right of peaceful assembly and other rights and freedoms.



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