Metropolitan Police Commissioner highlights civil liberties dilemma in public order policing

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM is in the chair.

In his oral report to the Authority, the Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, talked about some of the recent big public eventsin London and the dilemmas for public order policing.  The Metropolitan Police have a duty to maintain public order and have been criticised for potential infringements of the civil liberties of those exercising their right to protest (and those caught up in the protests) by the tactics used including kettling/containment of groups for several hours.  He pointed out that with “perfect intelligence” the need for such tactics would be reduced (as potential breaches of public order and potential perpetrators could be identified in advance and appropriate action taken), but the obtaining of that degree of intelligence would also involve a significant encroachment of civil liberties.

He raises some important issues and ones which need public debate.  At present, whatever they do the police are criticised on the one hand as being heavy-handed in the way in which they handle demonstrations or for having too many police officers deployed for what turn out to be perfectly orderly events, or on the other hand that they have lost control of the streets and allowed demonstrators to run amok to disrupt businesses and damage property.  No doubt, a greater investment in obtaining intelligence would also lead to criticism even though it might be a much more cost-effective use of resources.

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