Safety Tips for Cops Off Campus 2013

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This features opening commentary from a few FITwatchers. If you’re in a hurry, skip straight to the safety tips after the stars **** at the bottom.

It has been a busy week at the University of London. Months of tensions regarding police invasion of campus space exploded when an occupation of the Vice Chancellors office was brutally evicted by the Metropolitan Police. Following this, there was a very dynamic ‘Cops Off Campus!’ day of action, followed by another one the next day. Both actions achieved their stated aims, with University grounds a largely cop-free zone for the duration. At the same time, there were occupations at several universities throughout the UK, with an injunction served (and ignored!) in Birmingham and the suspension of 5 students in Sussex. All these moments evidence both state repression and a sense of solidarity, taking collective action and supporting those who are singled out for repression. Great work everyone!

Responding to these developments, UoL management top dog Chris Cobb has taken out an injunction against occupational protest at UoL, in a desperate attempt to further pacify the university population and sterilise academic space. This reflects a broader trend in the capital to silence street-level political dissent. The authors believe this is a systemic trend in a failing capitalist society, which is increasingly resorting to totalitarian tactics to maintain social control. As in wider society, so on campus; total policing and its arrival at UoL is a sign of the weakness of management faced with two striking unions and a dissident student body. Effective on-campus resistance to neoliberal management policies bubbles away and the shock troops of the state are sent in to regain control and return the University to a place of work and consumption. Clearly, ‘human rights’ are entirely disposable in this hypocritical period of transition.

In direct defiance of this draconian measure, and following the events of last week, students and staff across the country will be taking to the streets on Wednesday in a national day of action to regain their campuses as places of free expression. The big action will be on UoL campuses on Wednesday (ULU, Malet St, WC1E 7HY at 2pm) but Sussex University will be hosting a week of action, as well as days of action at other universities such as Leeds and Bristol on other days this week. Check social media (hashtag #copsoffcampus) for more details.

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Here are some simple tips to help you stay safe and protect your anonymity. Follow the links if you want more information.

1. Its December; so big jackets, hoods, scarves and gloves are a seasonal must! These will not only protect you from the weather but also police intelligence gathering. If you don’t have time to think properly about what you wear to the demonstration (it is strongly advised you do), at least make the effort to mask up.
2. Attend the demonstration with a group of friends (an ‘affinity group’) who are all ‘on the same page’ for the day.
3. Read legal advice before and accept bustcards from legal observers. Full arrest guide here, or multilingual bustcard here.
4. Maximum crowd solidarity: outwit the police, stay mobile, communicate with each other if you see kettles forming.
5. Snatch squads are small, triangular formations of riot police that move into a crowd to ‘snatch’ individuals from the crowd. Let others know if you see them forming. If someone gets snatched grab them by the waist. Everyone else should link arms. Together we are physically stronger.
6. FIT, Police camera teams (EGT’s) and PLO’s (cops in baby blue bibs) are there to gather intelligence. Defend your anonymity and safety by blocking and disrupting them as much as possible. A greater number of people engaging in this tactic makes it safer for all.
7. On police bail? Break your conditions! Read more here.
8. Be confident, refuse to be intimidated, assert your freedom!

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PLO block hits the streets at Sussex

The following report is from PLO block, operational at Sussex university on Monday…

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A large banner and a small group of people (it can work well with just 3 people) is all you need for PLO blocking.

PLO block turned out for the Sussex National Demo against Privatization. Although the group have all engaged in cold stares at PLO officers on previous actions, it was our first time actively blocking them for most of the protest – it turned out to be an incredibly fun and effective tactic, stopping evidence gathering, slowing down police response, and showing their true colours behind that baby blue to other protestors.

These two liaison officers had not yet mastered the ‘disarming charm’ of other PLOs, nor had they mastered pretending to liaise whilst actually information gathering. They didn’t make much of an effort to mingle in the crowd or to make ‘friends’ with protestors. Initially they kept at a distance from the march – taking a walk through the daffodils rather than joining the main march. They wanted to watch and report on the protest and didn’t make much effort to disguise this as they desperately tried to dodge our banner which blocked their view of events. They spent a good deal of time liaising with their radios. As things did get more interesting on the march, they did try to get a lot closer, pushing their way to get to the front of where stuff was happening and trying to embed themselves in the crowd – us and our banner frustrating them even more as their view was limited to “say no to PLO!”. Outside Sussex house, as we stood blocking one of them (they kept deviating from the usual working in pairs model), he reported over on his radio – “they’re banging on the doors” – presumably he knew this from sound rather than vision which was being blocked by the banner. Helpfully, we took this chance, and other opportunities that arose, to shout other information down the radio and his ear.

As well as hampering their evidence gathering and police communication, following them around and holding a banner over them also attracted laughing from other protestors, and when we explained what we were doing, they showed their support. Highlighting the PLOs presence and their role in such a way also built up hostility in the crowd towards them and they joined in with PLO blocking – as the PLO attempted to speak with someone in the crowd, another woman shouted “what was that? Can you hear something?” Another group of people with a banner came to block the PLO with us, creating a funnel shape with the two banners on either side of the PLO and funnelling him out away from the crowd.

There were a couple of occasions when we did lose one or both of them, but overall, we stuck with them for most of the day. This meant that they definitely spent more time trying to dodge us and escape from under our banner than evidence gathering. On one of the occasions when they did escape our watch, it turns out that one PLO had whipped off his bib to join his police buddies during scuffles with protestors (making the point that we had been raising earlier for us – “PLOs are not your friends, they are the police”). When PLO block were not on their case though, other protestors took up the job for us – from the Sussex Police Liaison Twitter account it turns out that protestors had thrown paint and ‘targeted’ the PLOs.

The effectiveness of these tactics can be seen by the PLO desperately trying to speak with a protestor in the crowd to find out what had been happening to Sussex house whilst he had been under the banner. He had not seen a thing. We were there to bring this conversation to an end.

(PLO online – it seems that blocking them on the ground is not enough. They’re out there on Twitter too trying to fuck things up for us. In response to a tweet about the PLOs being hounded off campus, @SuptSimonNelson tweeted “what a shame – there to advise and support”. Fortunately other Twitter users were there to put him straight.)

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Vauxhall Squat Raids

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These pictures were taken during the eviction of squats in Vauxhall tonight. The eviction was resisted, and it took a reported eight and a half hours to finally clear squatters from the building and the roof.

From what we have been told, the buildings are being torn down for redevelopment.

There seems no shortage of cops to turn squatters out on the street, no matter how many cuts are made to police spending. Doing the bidding of influential property owners is clearly a priority.

Disturbingly, the private security company for the site was also seen taking pictures of the people on the street around the squat, and the vehicle being used to carry away their possessions. What does a private company do with photos like that, we wonder?

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New Years Eve Prisoner Solidarity Demo


Does exactly what it says on the tin.

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Lets be honest, this year has been a disheartening one. State and security forces have repositioned themselves with guns towards us (quite literally, in some cases) and scored significant victories against the dissenting population.

Next year looks set to be a difficult one, with many of the worst austerity measures taking effect in 2013. If we are to get through the ensuing chaos, we need to do it shoulder-to-shoulder, acting in solidarity with each other.

So, lets use some of the last hours of 2012 to put this solidarity into practice.

7:30pm @ HMP Pentonville
9:00pm @ HMP/YOI Holloway
BRING THE NOISE.

Thanks to London Anarchist Black Cross for organising this.

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Plain clothes cop at Fridays demo

Cops turning up to demos in plain clothes seems to be a regular occurence these days. These pics were taken at the Fight for Sites demo on Friday. Although he appears to have forgotten his uniform, the man pictured is Constable Mark Stoddart.

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A number of cops in plain clothes have been pictured previously turning up to demos in inappropriate dress. The following spotter card appeared on the Fitwatch blog last November – who knows, some of them might even be out again today.

If you see plain clothes cops, dont just keep it to yourself. You may want to draw attention to them – shouting ‘cop’ while jumping up and down and pointing, for instance – so that everyone knows who and where they are. The crowd around you will then be able to decide on an appropriate response…

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Stay Safe; Stay Anonymous! #5 – Block & Disrupt!

Okay, so by now we should know all the basic preventative measures we can take to defend our anonymity. But there is one more thing we can be doing this October 20th to proactively assert our freedom to dissent without state repression. This is, of course, the classic FITwatch Direct Action tactics that made life so difficult for the FIT that they have had to reshape their role considerably on the ground. But we need to keep it up if we want to stay off their databases and defend our demonstrations from their intimidation. We cannot afford complacency. Here is a breakdown of different tactics that have been tried in the past, with some legal notes.

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1) When they move their camera towards you, you have a legal right to block their shot. This is supported by the Metropolitan Police’s own policy on surveillance, as evidenced in Form 5454 on Overt Photography and surveillance. You can ask for a hard copy of this if you want, to prove they have authorisation, but they are likely to tell you they cant issue one. Use anything you can to block their camera. This works twice as good if you are masked up. The more people that take responsibility for themselves on an individual level, the less likely they are to continue.

2) FIT are there to fulfill a certain remit. They are there, essentially, to harass and intimidate the crowd into submission and obedience. If their presence causes the crowd to react in some way, for instance, the crowd makes a move towards them with a banner to collectively block their shot and vocally protests against their presence, they are highly likely to withdraw. This has proven incredibly effective on a number of demonstrations and has resulted in no recorded arrests.

3) The most legally contentious strategy is for a group to actively block FIT cameras.   This is much less likely to result in arrest when lots of people do it.  If you see people FITwatching, don’t just watch, join in!  Getting rid of the FIT is of benefit to everyone, and if everyone takes responsibility for doing it, they don’t stand a chance!
Affinity groups are useful for FITwatching at crucial times, such as when the FIT are gathering intel as people congregate at the start of the demo.  This is a vulnerable time for many people as they may not yet be masked up, or may be unaware that the FIT are noting down identifying features or footwear.  Do a little FITwatching and make everyone safer.

4) Anything else you can think of that turns their tactics on them. Gen up on their names and faces with a FITwatch spotter card and call them by their names on the street. Film them. Photograph them. Follow them. Anything that lets them know they aren’t welcome on the demonstration. Again, all these things are fairly legal, but you should make sure you do it with some friends – just like any other piece of direct action.

So that’s it for now…see you on the streets tomorrow!

Solidarity,

FITwatch Crew.

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Stay Safe; Stay Anonymous! #4 – Fashion Tips for Dissidents

Whilst what you wear on a demo is on one level (quite rightly) unimportant, it can be used as a great tool to disrupt intelligence gathering activities. When such a large part of political policing rests on the ability to profile, identify, isolate (and subsequently harass) individuals and groups, it makes sense to be able to change the way you present yourself to the world when you are on the streets for a big demo. This helps make it harder for them to identify you in a crowd and harder to retrospectively piece together footage to make a coherent picture of yourself, the company you choose to keep and the movements you choose to make. Thus making the intimidation and harassment of participants much harder for them. Again, it is another perfectly legal way of FITwatching that can be used to great effect. We have already discussed Masking Up in an earlier post, so we wanted to make a more general point about what to wear.

On Wearing Black:

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  • If you are on a section of the march where everyone is wearing black, make sure you wear PLAIN black clothing with no identifying features (logos, patches, coloured trimming or details). If you must, you can cover logos up with black tape, but this is not always advisable as tape falls off eventually. You can also use permanent marker if you wish.
  • Think of everything; socks, shoes, gloves, face mask etc…keep it black, plain and cheap (so it doesn’t matter if you decide to chuck it away at some point).
  • Wearing head-to-toe black is a great way to stay anonymous when everyone else is doing the same, but for all those times in between you will want to think about changing your appearance in other ways – have an alternative outfit to change into and maybe even a few extra accessories to mix it up a bit (different scarves, gloves, lightweight shoes etc.)
  • You might want to wear your rucksack under your jacket sometimes – this helps reduce identification but, more importantly, reduces the chances of having someone pull hard on your backpack and pull you towards them (sometimes causing a loss of footing). This can sometimes happen in dense crowd situations when there are surging movements forwards and backwards. Or you could cut the small ‘carry handle’ off your backpack, as others like to do.

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If you have found this article helpful, please use social media to share this information.

Facebook profile: Fit Watch
Facebook fanpage: Fitwatch
Fitwatch on Twitter: @fitwatcher
NetPol on Twitter: @policemonitor
Hashtags: #staysafe #fightingFIT #oct20

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Stay Safe; Stay Anonymous! #3 – Affinity Groups

For the purposes of a mass demonstration, affinity groups – small groups of people who attend the same demonstration together – are a great way to stay safe and anonymous, providing a miniature support network that is both empowering and practical. This is one of the first things you should be considering in preparing for this October 20th, so start thinking about people you would like to team up with. Consider the following:

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  • Are they known to you? The most important part is that you have a degree of trust in the individuals you are with. Solidarity is the best weapon we have.
  • Are they like-minded? Make sure you pick people who are going to be supportive of any action you may choose to take. You are aiming to arrive together, and leave together – so it’s not ideal to have one or two people leave the group to pursue one form of action because the rest of the group isn’t comfortable with it, although you may choose to be more flexible.
  • Are they legally savvy? You should all have a read of LDMG’s ‘No Comment’ booklet to brush up on your rights. (This is available for FREE online here or FREE, in print, at Freedom Bookshop.)
  • Are they protest savvy? Similarly, ensure you have all read and understood the rest of our Stay Safe; Stay Anonymous! posts as a minimum if you dont have much experience of big demonstrations.

Advantages of being in an affinity group:

  • It is much harder to be ‘snatched’ from the crowd when the police begin to attack, particularly if the affinity group link arms.
  • It is much easier to negotiate big crowds of people with a small group moving in a considered and tactical fashion.
  • If your affinity group decides to mask up etc. it is much easier to maintain your anonymity.
  • More eyes, more ears and more brains. Much easier to maintain mobility and safety.

Top Tips:

  • ‘Buddy Up’. This is when, within the affinity group, people form groups of two and agree to watch each other’s back all day, aiming not to split up at all until at a safe space. This is a useful way of making sure everyone takes responsibility for keeping each other safe, as well as making personal tactical preferences easier to negotiate. Ideally, your ‘action buddy’ should be the person you feel most tactically similar to on the day.

Have a codename for your group on the day, to identify each other with instead of using names. This should be something benign and something that is unlikely to be shouted at a demonstration, so unfortunately it usually means your codename is kind of silly. Refer to each other as this codename for the duration of the day, so you are in the habit of responding to it when you find yourself in a noisy or stressful crowd situation.

  • Have an identifying hand signal for your group. This is particularly useful when moving through crowds. For instance, if you have to move quickly through a crowd towards a certain goal, you will want to avoid being split up. This may be even more difficult if you are in a situation where there are, say, lots of people in masks and hoods – especially if you happen to be facing the backs of their heads. Having a few people in the affinity group hold their arm high with an identifying hand signal means you don’t have to shout your codename till you are hoarse but essentially performs a similar function.
  • If anyone is arrested, make sure an independent legal observer from an organisation approved by the Network for Police Monitoring is informed right away. This includes LDMG (Legal Defence & Monitoring Group), GBCLegal (Green & Black Cross) and NMP (Newham Monitoring Project).

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If you have found this article helpful, please use social media to share this information.

Facebook profile: Fit Watch
Facebook fanpage: Fitwatch
Fitwatch on Twitter: @fitwatcher
NetPol on Twitter: @policemonitor
Hashtags: #staysafe #fightingFIT #oct20

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Stay Safe: Stay Anonymous! #2 – Masking Up

maskThis is possibly the easiest form of FITwatching that can be done. It is 100% legal (although you need to read the Legal Information at the bottom of this post), keeps you off a database and, when done en masse, creates a sea of obscured faces that are much harder to identify. This is something everyone should be doing on demonstrations, particularly in London – a city smothered by blanket surveillance.
However, there are a few things we should bear in mind when engaging in this form of FITwatching:

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When, Where, Who, Why…

  • If travelling alone or with a small group of friends (an ‘affinity group’), move quickly and smoothly round the streets to find the demonstration. It is not advisable to mask up before reaching a crowd, as this draws attention to you. However, you should use your initiative – if the cops are already making moves towards you, you might want to mask up.
  • Once there, mask up in a nice spot in the crowd, an enclosed doorway or other public-accessible space; toilets, alleyways etc. away from the obvious glare of the police, journalists, CCTV or other people who might (intentionally or otherwise) be documenting your movements and jeopardising your anonymity.
  • If there is civil disobedience, direct action or crowd responses to aggressive policing taking place, then make sure you mask up if you haven’t already. These are crucial moments when intelligence gathering cops of all stripes will be on the prowl and the best moment to disrupt their activities.
  • If the FIT shove a camera in your face, it goes without saying you should do whatever you can to obscure it. It is, after all, your legal right to individually refuse FIT photography/filming. If you have a mask, put it on. Ideally, you won’t let it get to this far without masking up, but it’s never too late.
  • Just because you aren’t going to do anything unlawful when you leave the house that day, doesn’t mean you don’t need to defend your anonymity. With draconian powers handed to the police on a plate for their arbitrary use, you never know when you might get your collar felt. Better safe than sorry.

Legal Information

DO know the law – common misconceptions allow the police to walk over people’s rights to remain anonymous. Face coverings are always legal to wear. However, if there is a s60aa in place on the day, a police officer may arrest you if you refuse to remove your face covering when asked to. They do not have the power to indiscriminately pull a face covering off your face on the street (but they often do, so always carry a spare!), although if they do arrest you for refusing to take it off they will obviously remove it. 

However, courts have ruled that if a face covering constitutes ‘seasonally appropriate attire’– for example, it is a cold, bright October day and you happen to be wearing a scarf and a hood to keep you warm and a baseball cap and sunglasses to keep the sun out of your eyes – then you may have a defence in court if you are arrested.

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If you have found this article helpful, please use social media to share this information.

Facebook profile: Fit Watch
Facebook fanpage: Fitwatch
Fitwatch on Twitter: @fitwatcher
NetPol on Twitter: @policemonitor
Hashtags: #staysafe #fightingFIT #oct20

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Stay Safe: Stay Anonymous!

copsOur sister organisation, the Network for Police Monitoring, is launching their ‘Don’t End up on a Database’ campaign this month. In response to this, FITwatch will be producing a series of simple, easy-to-understand guides designed to help you defend your anonymity and stay off police databases this October 20th . We believe these steps should form an integral part of any protestors’ activities on the day, regardless of tactical or ideological preferences. We cannot mount a serious challenge to power until we are able to move and associate freely, without state intrusion.

Some of this may be new to you, some of it may be old. But we encourage all our readership to watch out for these blog posts in the run-up to the demonstration:

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1) Refusing information
2) Masking up
3) Affinity groups
4) Fashion Tips for Dissidents
5) Block & Disrupt!

Please use social media to share and retweet this essential information.

Facebook profile: Fit Watch
Facebook fanpage: Fitwatch
Fitwatch on Twitter: @fitwatcher
NetPol on Twitter: @policemonitor
Hashtags: #staysafe #fightingFIT #oct20

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Stay Safe: Stay Anonymous! #1 – Refusing Information

For a long time now, FITwatch have been informing people of their right to withhold personal information when the police invoke specific powers against them. However, we acknowledge that this can be difficult to remember, especially if you are coming up against the police for the first time (which we know can be quite scary). It is also somewhat of a defensive stance, that assumes police harassment as a given.
It would be irresponsible of us not to reprint this legal information again. However, we want to try it with a new and more empowering objective in mind. This time, we should all be aiming for a collective point-blank refusal of any information to the police whilst we are on the streets. The legal information provided is designed to give you an advantage in this task – to add another intellectual weapon to your arsenal when refusing information. Until we have a culture of total non-cooperation with intelligence gathering and total solidarity between each other, we will be subject to bitter repression on the streets. We have to show them that enough is enough.

Legal information:
DO give a name and address if you are arrested.  You re not legally required to, but it makes it more likely you’ll get bail if charged. No one wants to end up in prison before they are even convicted of a crime.
DO remember if you are only arrested for Breach of the Peace, this is  not a criminal offence but a preventative power of detention.  The police should release you WHEN THE THREAT OF A BREACH OF THE PEACE HAS PASSED  even if you have not given your  name and address. Given that the police abuse this power of arrest, you might prefer to  refuse to give your name, address, DNA, fingerprints and so on.  If you are physically forced to comply you may be able to sue the police at a later date.
DO be assertive if you are stopped and searched – you are not required to give your name or address, even if you want a receipt.
DO refuse information to the FIT
DO remind cops demanding your name & address under suspicion of anti-social behaviour (s.50 Police Reform Act 2002), that they need to have a ‘reasonable belief’ that YOU have caused ‘harassment alarm and distress’ (the definition of anti-social behaviour.  Ask them what you are supposed to have done.  If they cant, tell them where to go (politely, of course!).
Protest is not enough in itself to qualify for anti-social behaviour. However, this argument will hold less water if the demo has kicked off at all.

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