Police Liaison Officers are everywhere these days, constantly hanging around ‘engaging’ with protesters. They are being hailed as a new invention, but the role they carry out is not new at all. It’s just that it used to be done by cops in blue bibs called ‘FIT teams’
Back before FIT got a bad name (something we hope that Fitwatch have, at least in part, contributed to) FIT used to spend a lot of time ‘engaging’ too. Their original remit included:
• to establish a dialogue with individuals and groups to gather intelligence and information on the changing mood, dynamics, and intent of crowd;
• to monitor marshalling, assembly and dispersal areas;
• to identify prominent participants;
• to obtain information about participants and future events.
‘Prominent participants’ once identified, would then go on the CRIMINT database, and would soon find cameras shoved in their faces wherever they went.
PLO's will work the same way, even if they dont spend all their time taking photos and writing things down in notebooks. At the DPAC protest yesterday regular PLO Chief Inspector Sonia Davis was hanging around asking ‘prominent participants’ if they were organisers of the protest, and suggesting they should hand over their ‘name and contact details’ so she could ‘stay in touch’.
Sonia is the most high ranking PLO we have seen – a little too high ranking for a role that just involves ‘being friendly’. She seems able to have a lot of time off from her role as head of operations at Hackney, as she has been seen at a lot of different demonstrations, including the counter olympics demo, critical mass, and even an EDL protest. But then she does have a background in counter-terrorism - perhaps you can draw your own conclusions.
Other PLOs have history as FIT. Take CO 89 Sergeant Holland, for example, seen with Sonia at various demos. The pics above show him in a previous incarnation – as a FIT officer at the student demonstrations in 2011.
Just because they smile a lot, and leave their cameras at home, does not mean we should accept them or engage with them any more than we would FIT teams. PLO’s are intelligence gathering, building the ever-growing databases on protesters and 'domestic extremism'. They should be resisted in every possible way, and if possible pushed out from our demos - like the Smash EDO people succeeded in doing in Brighton.
This will not only include criminal records, but all that ‘intelligence’ that is so lovingly gathered by FIT teams at political meetings, rallies, protests and actions. You know the stuff – you’ve innocently nipped out to grab a coffee, but in the eyes of the FIT it has become so much more dramatic. ‘target x is carrying out a ‘reccy’ on Cafe Nero for potential violent direct action and criminal damage.....’
Jennie Cronin, Director of Databases at the National Policing Improvement Agency NPIA confirmed to ZednetUK that the database would include intelligence data on protesters;
"It is a matter for the police force [as to] what information they hold," she said, saying such information may be on the national database "if a police force feels it is important enough to have on their own system and feels it is important enough to share". She added, however, that anyone can make a request with their local police force to see if their details are on that force's systems.
Political activists will undoubtedly be reassured, knowing they will be able to check that the FIT aren’t making up tales of terrorism and riot. Or at least they might be, if it were true. For many, the experience to date has been that the various police forces are strangely reluctant to share their ‘important’ data with the individuals concerned. To give just one example, requests by four activists to get their personal data from South Wales Police have all been denied. Information was withheld ‘in the interests of preventing and detecting crime and disorder’.
It’s interesting how low down the pecking order the actual data subjects are. Supplied alongside one denied data protection request was a list of all the people the police would be happy to share the data with, ‘in certain circumstances’. These included security companies; local and central government; current, past and prospective employers; healthcare, social and welfare practitioners; licensing authorities; ‘partner agencies’ involved in crime and disorder strategies; private sector organisations working with police in anti-crime strategies; voluntary sector organisations and ‘approved organisations and people working with police’. Just about anyone, in fact.
So, not only can the FIT make subjective judgements which are then entered onto the database as ‘fact’, this data can now be shared with all 43 police forces on the PND. On top of that it can also be shared with your employer, housing officer, and private security firms like Agenda Security, the ‘extremism monitoring’ organisation which is the latest money-spinner for ex head of NETCU, Steve Pearl. A key role of Agenda Security is to stop political activists ‘infiltrating’ organisations, or to put it another way, to stop them getting a job.
Knowledge is power, and the PND provides the modern ‘intelligence led’ police force with more of both. The consequences for political organising can’t be good.
Thousands of police were on the streets yesterday, many equipped with hard hats and weapons from the start, all intent on imprisoning protesters in a makeshift detention centre outside the houses of parliament. They viciously and repeatedly beat protesters around the head, leaving one twenty year old with life threatening injuries, and dozens more hospitalised. When protesters continued to push against their lines, they charged horses into the crowd. They threw a journalist to the ground from his wheelchair, and held others on the streets in freezing conditions without medical attention until almost midnight.
This, according to Sir Paul Stephenson, was ‘restraint’. On Radio 4 this morning he claimed we should be grateful that the police escorting Charles and Camilla didn’t open fire on the protesters who attacked the car with paint bombs, a rubbish bin and their bare fists. Given the show of ostentatious wealth paraded in front of young people denied even their EMA, I’d say it was the protesters that showed the restraint.
Hearing the police and some sections of the media dismiss the demonstrators as ‘thugs’ is sickening. The students and school kids out on the streets are fighting for their future, against a load of rich, out of touch MPs who think a £30k debt is mere chicken feed. What the hell are they supposed to do, write a letter?
The students acted with determination and courage. Their efforts to reach Parliament, get into the Treasury and attack Oxford Circus’s Topshop (with chants of 'Pay your taxes!) stretched the police to breaking point. The gloves off brutality of the police showed how close they came to losing control of the situation.
Many demonstrators also understood the need to resist FIT teams. Even early on two FIT teams had to run away as they were pelted with smoke and paint bombs. Fitwatch would have had a lovely picture of the FIT covered in blue paint, but unfortunately our camera was lost and smashed during a later altercation with a police line, so you’ll just have to imagine it!
The police have promised once again for the ‘full force of the law’ to come down on student demonstrators. The FIT will be trawling though their pictures, and the details taken from students in the Westminster kettle who were forced to give their names before release. Fitwatch advice to students fearing arrest remains as important as ever.
During the protests yesterday the police went into a data gathering frenzy. From FIT teams searching and photographing occupying students in Oxford, to police arresting and processing 139 protesters for ‘breaching the peace’ in London, gathering intelligence has clearly been a key objective of police operations.
This building up of ‘intelligence’ on political protesters must be resisted. The police have admitted building up information on police databases, and using intelligence to actively ‘disrupt’ groups or individuals involved in planning or co-ordinating protest. This is not something any of us should help them with!
The breach of the peace arrests in London were a blatant ruse to get personal details of the protesters kettled in Trafalgar Square. This isn’t the first time they have used this tactic, and it probably won’t be the last. It may be too late for the people arrested last night, but everyone should know their rights if arrested for breach of the peace...for next time!!
• Breach of the peace is NOT A CRIMINAL OFFENCE. You cannot be charged, fined or imprisoned. It will not result in a criminal record.
• The police MUST release you when the threat of a breach of the peace has passed. That is usually at the end of the demo when everyone has gone home. If they keep you for longer get advice on taking a claim for unlawful imprisonment.
• The police CANNOT force you to have FINGERPRINTS taken or to provide a DNA sample, if you have only been arrested for breach of the peace. They may ask you to consent, but if you refuse they cannot fingerprint you or take DNA. If they take these by force they are committing an assault.
• As far as you can, KEEP YOUR PERSONAL DETAILS TO YOURSELF. Because they MUST release you when the threat of a breach of the peace has passed, there is no obligation for you to give your name and address. Given this information is probably the reason you were initially arrested, they probably won't be happy if you withhold it. They may try all sorts of intimidation, but it could be worth taking some flak to keep your name off the database.
• Worst case scenario, and a fairly unlikely one if the demo is over, you could be held to go in front of a magistrates court. They can ‘bind you over’ to keep the peace, which means that you have to pay a sum of money, say £50 or £100, if you breach the peace again. It is still not a criminal offence.
• They do have the right to take your photo when you are in custody, and can use force to do so if they decide to be bastards. Which they often do.
As with all arrests, avoid ‘friendly’ chats with the arresting or other officers. DO NOT tell them how many demos you have been on, who you travelled with, why / when you got involved, which university you go to etc etc, even in the course of ‘normal’ conversation.
Never, ever give them more information than you have to. Never give a date or place of birth, or answer any of those stupid questions about height, weight, shoe size etc.
It’s not their job to make life easy for political protesters. It’s not our role to make life easy for the police.