A civil liberties group reminds us why we shouldn’t talk to those cops in baby blue bibs

A police liaison officer talking to a papier mache Theresa May
Emily Apple

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.

Start your day with The Canary News Digest

Fresh and fearless; get excellent independent journalism from The Canary, delivered straight to your inbox every morning.




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.

Dutta continues:

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.

Key points

Netpol has five key points for protesters and protest organisers to remember:

  1. The police do not grant permission for protests.
  2. 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.
  3. If the police seek to impose conditions that are too restrictive, you do not have to accept them.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Featured image author’s own

Get involved

Since you're here ...

We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.

The Canary Support
  • Show Comments
    1. Back in the 80’s the most dangerous activists were deemed to be the Animal Rights Groups, probably justified remember some fool let the minks out which then decimated local wildlife. Things have moved on now and we are faced with all sorts of threats.The police are mainly in a no win scenario and publishing articles about the CLOs is irresponsible. Now I don’t approve of them because it’s policing on the cheap and they don’t have the same training as a proper cop. But currenly they are the only ones in touch with communities and in case you haven’t noticed there is a horrendous knife crime problem. Currently about the same numbers as the shootings in New Zealand

    2. Yes because may sacked twenty thousand police officers but now they doing whot they did to the miner’s making out protestors are the criminals and put these together police instead yet the police have shown that they do government work you only have to look back on the frackers they pulled a wheelchair victim out of his wheelchair and informed dwp about those on the line providing names so they could attack those on benefits when will it stop I’m afraid with the Tories in power it end up with G4S doing the policing you state about mink the animal rights have left not a ticking bomb for local wildlife but are now all over Britain even attacking domestic stock

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.