Sun, 19 Apr 2009

Public order tactics and the Lucifer effect

Sir Ken Jones, ACPO president, said this Sunday on police public order tactics:

Unlike many other countries we do not have standing "riot police" and using this term does not aid understanding. In policing demonstrations and the like we need to mobilize hundreds, sometimes thousands, of police officers from other work. The so called "riot police" we see on TV are mostly everyday officers from our neighborhoods and communities who would rather be somewhere else. Our officers are trained and deployed according to what works best to deliver people's democratic rights against the rights and needs of the majority who are not involved. It has to be said that there are many who get involved in street protest who are intent on creating riots, damaging property and attacking our officers. The presence of such groups, well organised and determined, is sadly an increasing feature of public protest across Europe. They pose a very real threat to legitimate protestors, public and police. Police officers are only human but know that their standards of behavior in all situations must be beyond reproach, no matter what provocation is offered. Those who cross the line must be dealt with. However there is a need to approach this objectively and look at the issue from all perspectives. And those who do not cross the line, the vast and overwhelming majority, deserve our support.

Philip Zimbardo, infamous for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, defined the Lucifer Effect as 'the point in time when an ordinary, normal person first crosses the boundary between good and evil to engage in an evil action'. In 2004 Zimbardo served as an expert witness for the defence in one of the Abu Ghraib court-marshal hearings. Here's an extract from the review of his book in Discover Magazine:

Situational forces mount in power with the introduction of uniforms, costumes, and masks, all disguises of one’s usual appearance that promote anonymity and reduce personal accountability. When people feel anonymous in a situation, as if no one is aware of their true identity (and thus that no one probably cares), they can more easily be induced to behave in antisocial ways.

In both cases from the G20 demonstrations independently investigated by the IPCC - the worst cases of identified police brutality - the police officers involved were not wearing any visible identification. The officer who hit and pushed Ian Tomlinson also wore a balaclava. These are apparently used to protect officers when there's a risk of fire; in that instance there was no such risk. The balaclava just made the officer more anonymous.

Demonstrators are dehumanised, Sir Ken Jones described them, in the extract above, as groups ('many', 'such groups') with no reference at all as to where they come from or why they may demonstrate or what for. Except for one mention of 'legitimate protestors', the rest of the text is aligned with the Met's building up of a 'summer of rage'. The contrast with how he describes the police is telling: 'police officers', 'everyday officers', 'officers', 'human', 'those'.

It's not just some officers being out control in the heat of the moment. The whole system protects such behaviour and promotes the impression that the police are above the law. Crucial CCTV footage is missing (or maybe not), no police officers are convicted for deaths in custody... The last time a police officer was convicted following a death in custody was for assault charges in 1971. A long way from the Nine principles of policing established by Sir Robert Peels.

If Zimbardo's theory is valid, the officers being investigated by the IPCC are not just bad apples but representative of a systemic problem that shows the need for accountability at all levels including senior officers.

(And why does Sir Ken Jones uses American spelling in this ACPO press release?)

The new United Campaign Against Police Violence is organising a public rally in Friends Meeting House on Euston Road at 7:00pm on Tuesday 5 May on:

A national demonstration is planned by the campaign for Saturday 23 May.

websiteblogblog archivenews feedfeedback