Public order policing essay

Public Order Policing

Public Order Policing: Introduction

The purpose of this section is to explore a range of contemporary issues relating to public order from both theoretical and operational perspectives. Controversy over the policing of public order in Britain was re-ignited with the events surrounding the policing of the ‘G20’ protests in April 2009. In the wake of the G20 protests fundamental questions were once again raised about the strategies and tactics used by the police (as evidenced at the end of this section).

Above: Police and protestors at the G20 World Leaders’ Summit

Drawing upon a number of examples from the British and international contexts, this section reviews political, sociological and criminological aspects of public order policing that might apply to any jurisdiction. A list of references and additional reading are provided at the end of the section.

This section contains the following sections:

  1. Defining public disorder.
  2. Public order policing and the state.
  3. Public order and the use of force.
  4. Public order: approaches and consequences.
  5. Public order policing: theoretical perspectives.
  6. Contemporary public order policing: case study analysis.
  7. Conclusions.

The core text for this unit will be Waddington, D. (2007). Policing Public Disorder: Theory and Practice. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

The overall aim of this section aligns with that of David Waddington’s book. It is to facilitate a wider and more detailed understanding of:

Processes by which the police understand and react to instances of public disorder, of variations in police tactics and strategies, and of the possible ways that interventions (and non-interventions) can serve to enhance or, alternatively, attenuate the potential for collective violence. (Waddington, 2007, p. 5)

In order to avoid confusion it should be noted that there are two leading academics in the field of public order policing bearing the surname of Waddington. The author of our core text is Professor David Waddington at Hallam University, Sheffield; the other is Professor P. A. J. Waddington at the University of Wolverhampton.

Public order

Further information

The POLKA Public Order Community is a forum for all aspects of public order and public safety policing, relevant to all officers from PSU level 3 up to gold command.

Legislation update

Section 57 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 amends sections 5(1) and 6(4) of the Public Order Act 1986 to remove the word ‘insulting’. The amendment came into force on 1 February 2014. Guidance on the Amendment to Sections 5(1) and 6(4) of the Public Order Act 1986 outlines relevant legal and operational implications.

Crowd management is the focus of policing large-scale national and regional events, and routine local community events. It includes the policing of planned and spontaneous public events (such as protest and football) and the policing of any events or trigger incidents which result in, or may result in, public disorder.

The content is not exhaustive or restrictive and does not preclude the innovative use of strategies and tactics which are lawful, comply with human rights and have been adequately risk assessed. Similarly, it does not provide guidance for event organisation or management.

A full index of the content of Public order APP is available.

Sociology: Research

This page describes ongoing research by Hugo Gorringe and Michael Rosie into the policing of ‘crowd events’, and in particular the inter-relation between political protest and protest policing. The research builds on our 2005 G8 Protest Research Project which led to five academic publications. Since the conclusion of that project we have been investigating innovation and reform in protest policing — in particular in the wake of the controversies over the policing of London’s G20 protests in 2009. We are also interested in how police plan for ‘crowd events’ more generally.

Recent Activity

In January 2013 Hugo Gorringe, Michael Rosie and Margarita Kominou were invited to meet with Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, as part of his visit to the UK.

Michael Rosie observed a number of Loyalist and Republican parades over the ‘Marching Season’ of 2013.

In August 2012 Michael Rosie was appointed to the Scottish Government’s independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism. Part of the Group’s wide-ranging remit is concerned with public order issues around football as well as issues related to marches and parades.

In March 2011 we observed South Yorkshire Police’s liaison operation which facilitated peaceful protests around the Lib Dem Spring Conference in Sheffield. Later that month we observed a massive (and entirely good natured) TUC march and rally in London, as well as various ‘actions’ by peacful protestors — and some violent ones — which took place the same day in central London.

Our work on protest policing was featured in an interview in the Greek daily newspaper I Avgi (The Dawn) in November 2010.

We invited Dr Clifford Stott (University of Liverpool) to present at the Edinburgh Sociology seminar (details here) on 10 November 2010 — the day in which radical student activists occupied Millbank Tower in London.

We observed Strathclyde Police’s preparations, planning for, and on-the-day policing of, Pope Benedict XVI‘s visit to Bellahouston Park in September 2010 (more information here)

We researched the Camp for Climate Action in Edinburgh, August 2010, and in particular the inter-play between direct action activism and ‘liaison’ police approaches.

Public Order Policing in Comparative Perspective — In May 2010 we organised and hosted a knowledge-exchange workshop co-sponsored by The Scottish Institute for Policing Research and The Public Policy Network. The workshop discussed current trends in public order policing and lessons from existing research and policing experience.

We observed the four days of protests surrounding the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Edinburgh in November 2009 (more information here). These protests were met by experimental efforts at ‘protest facilitation’ on the part of Lothian & Borders Police. Our study of this policing approach has led to two submitted journal articles.


Hugo Gorringe and Michael Rosie (2013), ‘»We will facilitate your protest»: Experiments with Liaison Policing’, Policing.

This article explores innovations in public order policing during Edinburgh’s Nato Parliamentary Assembly protests of 2009. When masked anarchist protesters gathered to ‘Smash Nato’, they were met by three plainclothes police negotiators rather than a line of public order officers. This article reflects on their attempts to interact with protestors and minimize disorder while ‘facilitating lawful protest’. We welcome the shift in attitudes and approach towards political protest, and draw on our observation of Nato and the 2010 Climate Camp to consider the efficacy of liaison policing tactics and the lessons to be learned.

Hugo Gorringe, Clifford Stott & Michael Rosie (2012), ‘Dialogue Police, Decision Making, and the Management of Public Order During Protest Crowd Events’, Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 9 (2), pp111-125

Following the major riots within England in August 2011, the efficacy of public order police decision making was brought into a sharp focus. None the less, the reform of this mode of policing within the UK was already underway with a strong emphasis upon policing through consent and the need to facilitate peaceful protest through dialogue and communication. This paper reports upon a critical ‘test case’ for this ‘new approach’ by analysing the policing of a series of protests against Government policy across 3 days that surrounded a Government party conference in Sheffield, a large city in the north of England. This paper draws out lessons to be learned from what proved to be a highly successful dialogue-based approach to policing protests. We contend that dialogue and liaison were effective because they allowed for an ongoing dynamic risk assessment that improved command-level decision making and enhanced police proportionality. The subsequent impact upon crowd dynamics allowed for an improved capacity for proactive public order management, encouraged ‘self-regulation’ in the crowd, and avoided the unnecessary police use of force at moments of tension. The implications of the analysis for theory and practice are discussed.

Michael Rosie & Hugo Gorringe (2011) ‘It’s Grim Down South: A Scottish Take On The «English Riots»‘, Scottish Affairs, 77

As the worst urban disorder in a generation played itself out across English cities, one issue preoccupied politicians, journalists and academics north of the Border: why had there been no riots in Scotland? The First Minister Alex Salmond was quick to make the point that Scotland was unaffected by the riots and continued to be ‘open for business’. Salmond and others pointed towards socio-cultural differences between the nations of the United Kingdom as partly explaining the differential spread of the disorder. Scotland also has distinct institutions with particular ways of doing things. Our Police respondents were quick to note that they ‘do things differently’ in Scotland. This paper takes these claims as its point of departure and offers an analysis of the ‘English riots’, the Scottish police and the extent to which Scotland is immune to the disorder south of the border.

Hugo Gorringe, Michael Rosie, David Waddington & Margarita Kominou (2011) ‘Facilitating Ineffective Protest? The Policing of the 2009 Edinburgh NATO protests’, Policing & Society, 21 (4).

This paper reports on innovations in public order policing during the protests surrounding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Parliamentary
Assembly in Edinburgh, November 2009. When masked anarchist protesters determined to ‘smash NATO’ gathered on the streets on the first morning of the Assembly, they were initially confronted by three plainclothes police negotiators rather than a line of riot police. In this paper, we draw on empirical data to offer an analysis of these developments and gauge the extent to which they meet the stated intentions of the police to ‘facilitate lawful protest’. Whilst welcoming the shift in attitudes and approach towards political protest, we argue that the accent on facilitation in this operation ultimately appeared neither innovative nor effective in practice and frequently reverted to styles of policing designed to contain protest.

Michael Rosie and Hugo Gorringe (2009), ‘What a Difference a Death Makes: Protest, Policing and the Press at the G20’, Sociological Research Online, 14 (5), November

In the wake of the G20 protests in London, 2009 we published a critique of the media’s framing of a major protest event before and after the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson.

Abstract: The casual observer of the controversy over policing at April 2009’s G20 summit in London might have been forgiven for imagining that Britain’s media serves as a bulwark against the abuse of power, fearlessly illuminating and condemning injustice. The publication of video footage and eye-witness accounts to heavy-handed protest policing has certainly raised the profile of this issue and led, concretely, to formal investigation of both individual police officers and to policing strategies more broadly. In this paper we examine the policing of protest, and in particular ‘anti-systemic’ protest, but also examine the role of the newspaper media in the interplay between police and protest. We argue that the media has often fomented and ignored the very ‘abuses’ they are now so eager to condemn. The key difference between coverage of the 2009 G20 summit and past such events, we contend, is the tragic death of an innocent bystander which has shifted the way in which the media has framed events.

Keywords:G20, Policing, Protest, Media