HMICFRS: Getting the balance right? An inspection of how effectively the police deal with protests (March 2021)
Response from: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Hampshire
While Hampshire Constabulary was not a part of this thematic inspection, we value the findings and outcomes, and any learning points on which we can implement. As highlighted within the report, we appreciate that in recent years we’ve seen more of police time and resources being spent dealing with protests. We recognise the key role our police officers play when it comes to the wide range of activity surrounding the policing of protests, such as managing intelligence, planning and preparing responses, collaboration and effective decision-making processes. Hampshire Constabulary works closely with Thames Valley Police and recommendations will affect its Joint Operations Unit where collaboration is strong.
Protests are an important part of our democracy and this report highlights the requirement to strike a fair balance between individual rights and the general interests of the community. It is interesting to note that HMICFRS found “for every person who thought it acceptable for the police to ignore protesters committing minor offences, twice as many thought it was unacceptable. And the majority of respondents felt it was unacceptable for protests to involve violence or serious disruption to residents and business.” We can see how the public’s confidence in the police’s ability to safely tackle such activity is under public scrutiny. With the addition of press and social media there is a need to be able to respond whilst being accountable with transparency of action.
We recognise the challenges when large scale events occur, keeping residents and communities safe at all times is key. We will continue to review the forces actions and challenge where needed, providing the public with transparency and accountability.
The report makes 12 recommendations, two of which apply to chief constables and police forces:
- By 31 December 2021, chief constables should make sure that their legal services teams subscribe to the College of Policing Knowledge Hub’s Association of Police Lawyers group.
- The OPCC will work with the force to understand the current proportion of the Legal Services department who are subscribed to the Association of Police Lawyers group on the Knowledge Hub, and we will enquire with the Heads of Legal Services to ensure individuals within the Legal Services teams have subscribed. We will work with the force to understand if individuals in the Legal Services department are members of the Association of Police Lawyers, ensuring consistent communication and information sharing.
- By 31 December 2021, chief constables should ensure that their forces have sufficiently robust governance arrangements in place to secure consistent, effective debrief processes for protest policing. Such arrangements should ensure that:
- forces give adequate consideration to debriefing all protest-related policing operations;
- the extent of any debrief is proportionate to the scale of the operation;
- a national post-event learning review form is prepared after every debrief; and
- the form is signed off by a gold commander prior to submission to the National Police Coordination Centre.
- The OPCC will work with the force to understand the current debrief approach in relation to protests. We will review the governance arrangements in place around protest debriefs, as well as the current processes surrounding the use of national post-event learning review forms. The aim will be to ensure proportionate, consistent and effective debriefing processes and share learning across forces to increase the evidence base in this area.
Areas for improvement
The report suggests 4 areas for improvement, all of which are related to police forces:
- Forces should improve the quality of the protest-related intelligence they provide to the National Police Coordination Centre’s Strategic Intelligence and Briefing team (NPoCC SIB). And this team should ensure that its intelligence collection process is fit for purpose.
- As mentioned in the report, the police rely on intelligence to assess protest-relate risks and assessment processes should reflect the most up-to-date intelligence. The OPCC will aim to understand the current actions being taken by the NPoCC SIB team to ensure its intelligence collection process is fit for purpose. The OPCC will scrutinise the force in reviewing the processes and systems in place around providing protest-related intelligence to the NPoCC SIB team in order to improve the quality of protest-related intelligence.
- On a national, regional and local basis, the police should develop a stronger rationale for determining the number of commanders, specialist officers and staff needed to police protests.
- The OPCC will work to understand the rationale behind the current approach towards staffing numbers in protest strategies.
- The police’s protest-related community impact assessments are an area for improvement, particularly those that need to be completed after the event. These assessments should assist the police to understand fully the impact of protests on communities. They should include assessments of the impact of protest on local residents, visitors to an area, businesses, and the critical infrastructure including transport networks and hospitals.
- The report concludes police are not doing enough to assess and document the impact of protests. The OPCC understands that improving the way that police assess the impact of protests will help to understand fully the impact on local residents, visitors to an area, businesses, and the critical infrastructure. The OPCC will work with the force to understand current impact assessment processes and forms to ensure they are fit for purpose, particularly the impact assessments that need to be completed after the event. To note the report mentions that processes should include regular reviews and updates, so the police can respond to changing circumstances. The OPCC will scrutinise the force to understand the current approach and ensure a reasonable frequency of reviews and updates.
- The police’s use of live facial recognition technology is an area for improvement. The National Police Chiefs’ Council should continue to work with the Government and other interested parties. These bodies should develop a robust framework that supports forces, allowing the use of live facial recognition in a way that improves police efficiency and effectiveness while addressing public concerns about the use of such technology. The framework should be designed to help the police satisfy the requirements explained in the Court of Appeal judgment:  EWCA Civ 1058.
- The report highlights that the police’s use of facial recognition technology divides opinion and further policy-development work is needed. The OPCC will work with the force to understand the current processes surrounding facial recognition technology and continue to monitor the outcomes of the above proposed framework surrounding the use of live facial recognition and work to ensure compliance with any new processes or practices, whilst addressing public concerns about the use of such technology.