The HMIC report, which followed the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in March, recommends a radical change in public order policing. Its proposals are based on a new understanding of crowd behaviour pioneered by British psychologists.
HMIC consulted the world’s leading experts in the field: Professor Steve Reicher from the University of St Andrews, Dr Clifford Stott (Liverpool) and Dr John Drury (Sussex). Their `new psychology of crowds – formed the basis for the recommendations of the report.
During the consultation, the researchers emphasised that most crowd members have peaceful intentions and would normally shun advocates of violence. However, this can change if they feel they are being mistreated by the police.
Professor Reicher, a social psychologist at the University of St Andrews, commented, “The traditional psychology sees the seeds of violence in all crowds. This leads to a defensive policing based on fear and suspicion.
“The new psychology views collective violence as arising from the interaction between crowds and police. Whether the violence of a few escalates to involve the many depends on how the police treat crowd members in general.”
According to Professor Reicher and his colleagues, effective policing needs to be based on a ‘dialogue’ approach. This approach has three core elements: an understanding of the aims and intentions of crowd members; a focus on helping crowd achieve legitimate aims; and a series of graded interventions which target those causing disorder without denying the rights of the majority.
These ideas were successfully tested at the 2004 European Football Championships and have transformed policing in several European countries. The researchers conclude that, if implemented in the UK, they would be equally effective in minimising crowd violence.
Dr Stott, who trains police forces across Europe, commented, “This new psychology has implications at all levels of policing. It demands enhanced training, developing new tactics and prioritising communication with crowd members. We have designed interventions based on our approach and shown that they work.”
Professor Reicher concluded, “There is cause for optimism. If fully implemented our suggestions will pave the way for a new public order policing for the new millennium – one which makes it safe for all to participate in democratic protest.”
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Ref: G20 report 271109
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