Civil liberties group, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) is telling us why we shouldn’t talk to the police officers in baby blue bibs at protests.
Police Liaison Officers (PLOs) are a common sight on many protests. They like to pretend they’re your friend and claim they are there to facilitate your protest. But their real purpose is to gather intelligence on protesters.
And as thousands prepare to take to the streets for climate strikes and other upcoming protests, it’s a timely reminder of why everyone should steer clear of PLOs.
In a Netpol video about PLOs, Lydia Dagostino from Kellys solicitors sets out their role:
They will approach activists and say that they are there to facilitate the protest… But the reality is their job and role is to gather intelligence on the protests…and feed that back to their superior officers.
Dagostino also warns about the way PLOs appear to be your friend at a protest:
Police Liaison Officers present as friendly, as interested, as someone you can talk to. And they speak to people and in some cases even befriend them.
The video shows a police officer denying that PLOs are intelligence gatherers. But as Dagostino says:
After the Balcombe [anti-fracking] protests, a document surfaced that contained effectively a blueprint… it effectively said that they should be given a sterile corridor to feed information back to the command officers.
So where does all this intelligence go?
Shamik Dutta, a solicitor at Bhatt Murphy, explains what happens to the intelligence that PLOs gather:
There are… databases such as the National Domestic Extremism database which is now known as the National Special Branch Intelligence System, where the lawful activities of protesters, and journalists, and politicians have been recorded. And so any information which is gathered by the police could be recorded on those databases.
At protests, quite often, it will be Police Liaison Officers who are the point of contact with protesters. And so invariably information which is provided to Police Liaison Officers can… end up on such a database.
Don’t talk to the police
Netpol has also produced a guide for protesters about talking to the police. Although Netpol admits that some protesters “occasionally find it useful to talk to the police beforehand”, it also makes clear that:
There is no legal obligation on any organiser of a political assembly to talk to the police before the event and it is completely legitimate for protest groups to take the decision not to do this.
And Netpol also points out that “negotiation” is not the same as “liaison”:
Rather than negotiate directly with senior officers or public order commanders, protest organisers are often directed to talk instead to police liaison officers. Liaison policing (or dialogue policing as it is sometimes known) is often ‘sold’ to protest organisers as the means by which they can negotiate with the police prior to an event.
What organisers are expected to agree to in return, however, is a complete ‘liaison policing’ package which involves significant elements of coercive control and surveillance.
Netpol has five key points for protesters and protest organisers to remember:
- The police do not grant permission for protests.
- If organisers talk to the police, this should mean you have assessed that it will help make a protest more successful, rather than seeing it as an expectation on everyone who takes part.
- If the police seek to impose conditions that are too restrictive, you do not have to accept them.
- If the police want you to agree to ‘liaison policing’, you can instead insist on nominating your own liaison person to communicate directly with the senior officer on the day – or choose not to liaise with the police at all.
- If you decide not to talk to the police, make sure you have legal observers present. Contact Green and Black Cross as early as possible to make arrangements.
You can watch Netpol’s video below and read the full guidance here. But it’s a much-needed reminder of why talking to the police is generally a bad idea, and particularly why you shouldn’t talk to the PLOs.
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