Public order policing
The majority of experts in global risk predict that we will continue to see protest in response to the economic climate and austerity measures. The potential for this form of protest to lead to violence, damage to business property and assets, impact on reputation and ultimately profit will always exist.
After a period of relative quiet in public order terms, there has been an increase in protest activity across the UK, including the UK Uncut protests, G20, TUC march and a number of protests over student fees and, of course, the August Riots in 2011. The nature of protest constantly evolves, as does the methodology of those groups who intentionally push the boundaries of the law or engage in criminality.
This is a new era of public order policing, one where efficient communication tools are widely available to all. These are being used effectively by those wishing to cause disruption and this ability to coordinate activity and to react quickly tests the police’s ability to provide an effective response. As ever, within some groups there is a willingness to disrupt the public and confront the police; recently, this has included coordinated direct action against retail premises, government buildings and/or iconic sites, occasionally resulting in criminal activity. Protestors are more able to adapt quickly to police tactics, using modern technology previously unavailable.
The majority of protests in the UK are peaceful, and under Human Rights legislation should be facilitated. On average there are over 4,000 ‘events’ in London each year, with only a small percentage being disorderly. However, it is always possible that individuals attending may not be intent on holding a peaceful protest; consequently, business needs to be prepared.
Protests on business premises
A common problem of recent years is shop or business premises incursions by small groups of protestors, with the intention of gaining some publicity for their cause. When faced with this threat I always advise a calm, firm but friendly approach, as the event is often being recorded for a news programme and the company’s reputation will be impacted by the first interaction. Do not provide them with additional publicity by your actions.
If protests are taking place within private property, the police see the primary responsibility for the security of the property and the management of any trespass within the premises as being that of the land owner/company. Simply opening a shop or stores for business implies invitation to all persons to enter to shop. The manager or representative of the company / premises can withdraw this invitation at any time. It is certainly good practice to have an agreed form of words to use in this situation.
Should there be an incursion into your premises which is not disorderly and police are requested to attend, it should be stressed that this is likely not to be a criminal trespass. The expectations of the officers attending will be to witness a representative of the premises request those trespassing to leave. If asked to assist in the ejection of these persons, police are acting as an agent of the company and have no more powers and privileges than that of an ordinary member of the public.
The officers are there to standby and prevent a breach of the peace. Police will escort store / company staff and the person concerned out onto public land. If there are criminal offences apparent then officers will deal with these as they would in any normal situation.
Legislation exists under Section 68, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in the event of direct action to disrupt the normal operation of the premises. This is called Aggravated Trespass. The senior officer present may seek to use powers but will look to the store manager / representative to support this process. Police officers will have access to detailed guidance and exact wording to help your staff and should be there at all times to support them in such incidents.
Preparing for the threat of protests
If a threat exists, businesses must consider the security and crime prevention plans and ‘target hardening’ if appropriate. Protecting premises by taking a few sensible precautions may inconvenience some staff but will provide a level of protection for staff, prevent damage to business property and assets, not impact on reputation and allow the business to function.
The other consideration is how can you monitor world or media events, as they often lead to spontaneous protest in the UK and potentially against premises causing a disruption to business. For example, the Global Occupy Movement led to a London camp at St Paul’s which lasted many months; any Israeli aggression towards Gaza will lead to protest outside the Israeli Embassy, which in 2009 led to serious disruption; the recent UK Uncut protest at Starbucks cafes managed to close a few down for a short period. Businesses need to ensure that they have a professional ongoing risk management process that can map global events to identify potential threats to the employees, business property and assets, impact on reputation and ultimately profit.
Roger Gomm Limited