Today's report shows that, following G20, police don't just need to change their tactics but their whole attitude to political protests
The highly critical report into the policing of the G20 demonstrations makes it clear that it is not just the tactics used by the police that must change but the whole attitude to political expression on the streets.
"As a police service," said Chris Allison, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, we have clear duties under the law: to facilitate protest." You will find many senior police officers who say the same, but it is amazing that it took the death of Ian Tomlinson and more than 250 complaints about the G20 operation, including 50 of using excessive force, for this to be articulated in public so clearly.
Allison says he wants to move forward – code that asks people to forget what happened. That won't be possible until we see demonstrations policed with a respect for those expressing their legitimate views. Kettling is clearly an inflammatory tactic, which was responsible for a large amount of the trouble and violence. Despite hard lobbying from senior officers, that must end.
The atmosphere over the G20 summit wasn't helped by a media operation, which predicted violence ahead of the demonstrations and encouraged police officers to think that confrontation was inevitable. This was no doubt designed to deter people from attending, but what it may have done was allow certain police officers to believe that they had the full support of the government whatever they did. This predictive briefing must also end.
At the G20 demonstrations, it certainly looks like some of the rights laid down in the Human Rights Act were breached – those concerning freedom to assemble and protest, and of course privacy. One of the more sinister activities of the modern police is the collection of data and images from Forward Intelligence Teams, which seem to act in an intrusive and overbearing manner. As the Panorama programme, Whatever Happened to People Power, showed last night, Forward Intelligence Teams are filming people who attend perfectly legal meetings and political protests. Often they are collecting their car numbers so that individuals can be tagged on the ANPR system for future monitoring. This must also end.
Today's report, Adapting to Protest (pdf), by Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabularies, is welcome. A key sentence is, "What the review [of policing protest] identifies is that the world is changing and the police need to think about changing their approach to protest." That must be evident after the large number of citizen journalists filmed the police and, in the case of Ian Tomlinson, acquired vital evidence concerning his death.
The police have to understand that every action they take on these occasions is likely to be recorded. They cannot simply close down the cell phone network or interrupt the web as the Iranian and Chinese authorities have done over the last few weeks. In Britain, there is a new generation of protesters who are sophisticated, know their rights and are adept at using modern technology and the internet. To police a demonstration on climate change in the same way as you would the industrial troubles of the 80s is clearly inadequate, particularly as climate change demonstrators have the express support of Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, who has said that they were essential to maintaining pressure on the government.
It is essential the police bring themselves to an understanding of the legitimate aims of demonstrators, who in most cases could not be more honourably motivated.