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Public disorder: Different styles of policing 

Roger Gomm, Fellow of the ICPEM, who is writing an article on public order policing for the next issue of CRJ (published September), shares his thoughts on recent events in Turkey, after analysing the issues in an interview for the BBC.

Readers may have seen my comments resulting from an interview in an article on the BBC website (click here) relating to the protests and disorder in Turkey and Brazil.

The article reported on to events Istanbul, Turkey, triggered by plans to build on a city centre park, and S?o Paulo, Brazil, set off by an increase in the price of a bus ticket and the costs involved in the World Cup football programme. In both cases seemingly local issues triggered initial protests, which then spread around the country. Further in both Turkey and Brazil, allegations of police brutality and excessive tactics seem to have fuelled the protesters' anger.

In Turkey, the unrest began on May 28, as a protest against plans to develop Gezi Park, a rare green space in central Istanbul. After riot police used tear gas and water cannon to clear the park, the demonstrations mushroomed, with thousands of people protesting in Taksim Square, along with solidarity protests around the country. The police's use of large quantities of tear gas drew sharp criticism from various commentators.

Across Brazil, protests have been taking place against corruption, inefficient public services and high levels of spending on preparations for next year's World Cup. Anger at police tactics at earlier demonstrations, notably in S?o Paulo has given young people more incentive to protest. The police have been accused of firing rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, with many officers allegedly hiding their name-tags to conceal their identities.

On both occasions what was seen is opposite to the UK approach or response, where 'reasonable force' is the major consideration for both the public order commander and the individual officer.

In the BBC interview, I tried to explain that both Turkey and Brazil have a quite different style of policing from the more 'democratic' British tradition that we deploy in the UK. There are times when we try to use a community policing approach to support the rights of people to assemble and express their view though peaceful protests, and put a high value on communicating and negotiating with demonstrators, which supports the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The British Bobby might spend one day walking the beat talking to people and the next deployed on a public order job, so is more used to communicating with locals than an officer from a more military-style police agency, such as some found abroad.

If demonstrators do block an area, there is a balance to be struck between their right to assemble and express their views, and others' right to go about their daily business. In 2009 British Tamils occupied Parliament Square in central London, lobbying the British Government to intervene in the Sri Lankan conflict. At times protesters blocked roads, and communication was sometimes difficult but, despite these challenges, for the police the protest was allowed to continue, and it slowly wound down over a period of three months.

I explained that when protests become violent, the police are duty bound to act - and it is then that the situation becomes more challenging. The important point is that you want to avoid is police service itself being the trigger for further unrest.

I was part of an EU-funded visit in 2006 that provided a briefing on the British and European approach to protest and dealing with disorder and have followed progress in this matter since then.

It must be noted that the police serviced is an arm of the state in Turkey, coming under the Minister of the Interior and the Governor of the Provincial Governorates (there are 81 Provincial Governors in Turkey - all appointed effectively by the Prime Minister). It is extremely unlikely that police officers took the action they did in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey without instructions from the respective Governors who would, in turn, have received directions from the Minister of the Interior. In addition to that, Prime Minister Erdo?an rules his government and the AK Party with a rod of iron; thus, almost certainly, the decision to deal with the protesters as they did would have come from the Prime Minister.

So, unlike the UK, the police force has no independence even when it comes to operational matters. To fail to conform to the Prime Minister's wishes could mean instant transfer to a less prestigious place or instant dismissal in Turkey. Some conciliatory messages were made by President G?l and Deputy Prime Minister Ar?n? while Prime Minister Erdo?an was on a tour of North Africa after the initial attempt to clear the park. However, the hard line was re-introduced as soon as Erdo?an returned from North Africa.

When he came back, the Prime Minister was met by a huge crowd, described as 'enthusiastic'. Everyone who worked for the Municipality had been directed to attend; those whose were due to be working were given administrative leave. Those who were off-duty were given overtime. Municipal buses were laid on to take the workers to the airport. People who used their own vehicles were given 100 Turkish Lira per car. All the flags they waved were identical - handed out by AK Party organisers. Later when the PM went back to an AK Party rally in Ankara, the Turkish Red Crescent provided a field hospital to treat anyone who became ill during the rally. Doctors and medical students who assisted the victims of the police onslaught in Taksim Square are being investigated by the Health Ministry for practising without authority and at least one doctor was arrested.

This is the background in which the Turkish Police have to operate. Having said that, I would suggest that the police have little idea about public order strategy and tactics in a democracy, other than to use tear gas and water cannon. Senior officers are in the same position as senior police officers were in the UK before the Scarman Report of 1981, ie receiving no specific training in relation to the management of public order. And it must be remembered that because there is direct entry into the officer class, senior officers have never been in the shoes of the lower ranks.

Finally, there is no independent body to review police action. Thus any allegations made against the police arising from the Taksim Square protests will be investigated by the Ministry of the Interior which, probably sanctioned police action in the first place. Of course, they may make scapegoats of a few constables who, individually, were caught on camera assaulting people, but the hierarchy will escape all criticism.

Indeed, over the duration of the events in Istanbul, Erdo?an has, on more than one occasion, referred to the police as 'my police'?

Roger Gomm QPM, Fellow, ICPEM

Roger is a crisis management professional, specialising in the provision of advice on: emergency response, leadership, training and exercising for complex threats and emergency incidents. Roger served in a wide variety of strategic and operational roles in the Metropolitan Police Service, and has a unique background in operational command having been pivotal in all major events in London between 1998-2012. He led the Casualty Bureau team in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attack, negotiating the two-way flow of information on UK casualties enabling the UK Government to support bereaved families. In July 2005, he managed the police response to the London bombings of '7/7', where he used his in-depth knowledge to excellent effect. More recently he initiated the initial response to and later reviewed the London Riots of August 2011 to identify learning. He was awarded the Queens Police Medal for distinguished Service in 2007. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Civil Protection & Emergency Management (FICPEM), Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI) and Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management (FInstLM). 

Roger Gomm, 26/06/2013
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