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Police Protest Liaison Team

Officers from the Police Protest Liaison Team

Police Protest Liaison team new to East Sussex

Back in the middle of December, when ESCC unexpectedly started work on the Bexhill Hastings Link Road, campaigners and defenders gathered to peacefully protest against the trees being felled by the chain saw crews. Sergeant Daniel Russell, lead officer of the local Police Protest Liaison Team was on site from the start and HOT’s Zelly Restorick interviewed him to see what the experience has been like for him and his team.

Would you tell me a little bit about yourself – and your journey in the police.

I never had any intentions of joining the police. The reason I joined is because my Mum told me I had to. Throughout my 20-year career, I have been a uniformed officer. I love community policing and just talking with people.

When did you start work as a policeman?  What’s it like to be a policeman in 2013 – and how does it compare with when you started?

I joined in July 1992 at Bognor Regis. Society has changed dramatically since then, and so has policing. One of the greatest changes in policing has been how we now work together with our partners to solve problems and how we engage with the public. In my opinion social media has transformed society and policing.

Protest Police and protectors

Photo: Marta Lefler

The Police Protest Liaison Team – I understand this is a new team for this area.  Could you give me an overview about the team?  What is the team’s remit and what are their specific duties? 

The team was formed in late December last year. There is myself and five constables. One of our responsibilities is to engage with those protesting against the link road. We facilitate lawful peaceful protest and mediate, influence and negotiate with individuals and groups. Over the past few weeks, we have spent many days in the mud, snow and cold, but have formed very good relationships.

Do your team’s duties differ from normal police duties?

Our role in a sense is no different then normal, in that we our engaging with and serving the community. However, the locations where we are doing this are very different and for the first time I am going on patrol in wellington boots.

HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) have produced a guidance document, Adapting to Protest, developed following the death of Ian Tomlinson in 2009 at the G20 summit protests in London.  Can you give me an overview of this very interesting document?

One of the key messages for me from this document in my role is this:

“The police should seek to improve dialogue with protest groups in advance and where possible, to gain a better understanding of the intent of the protesters and the nature of the protest activity; to agree how best to facilitate the protest and to ensure a proportionate policing response.”

The following caught my eye in the report : ‘We should remember that public protests have been part of British political life for a very long time.  Protests are an important safety valve for strongly held views.  In addition, the right to protest in public is a synthesis of iconic freedoms: freedom of assembly and free speech.

Balancing the rights of protesters and the rights of those affected by the protest, i.e. those of the wider public, the business community and local residents, is a delicate situation, I imagine. Would you be able to tell me about how it’s working on the ground?

This differs from day to day. However, generally my team link in with protestors and attempt to facilitate peaceful protest for them. If by their actions they are breaking the law, we discuss this with them and explain the possible consequences for them. We attempt to negotiate and influence with a view to negating the need for prosecution or arrest.

Muddy protest police team

Photo: Marta Lefler

We first met on the day work started on the road. I was an independent defender of nature and you were the sole police officer on site. Would you give me an overview of the last few weeks?  How has it been for you and your team?

It has been a challenge for myself and the team, particularly the way the weather has been and the depth of the mud. However, we have been able to forge relationships and gain the trust of a number of protestors. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and met some great people.

How do the police feel about the involvement and employment of private security guard companies?  This must have been another fine balance, as they operate under a different set of guidelines.

This has been a unique experience for me. Due to the land involved, High Court enforcement officers have been used and my team have been working with them. They have also formed good relationships with the protestors.

What’s the experience been like for you and your team?  As people, as individuals – beyond the uniform you wear?  It must have been very cold at times.

For me, this has been an extension of community policing. It has been hard at times to gain the trust of protestors. However, due to the length of time I have been with them, they have come to know me as a person and not just an officer. This I feel has helped the relationship.

Due to the cold, my team has often shared a warm cup of tea with the protestors. There is nothing better than a cup of tea to get to know each other

Is community resolution a possibility at some point?  To heal things between the parties involved, bearing in mind the original meaning of restorative justice?

Yes, I do think there could be a place for C.R. at some point – and my team will be used to facilitate this.

HMIC report, Adapting to Protest here.

HOT interview with John Willett and Elize Shult on community resolution and restorative justice can be read here.

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Posted 09:59 Saturday, Feb 23, 2013 In: Home Ground

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