Yesterday Chris Allison, Assistant Commissioner of the Met, made an operational annoucement about next week's Climate Camp. For the most part it seems to be full of good intentions to police this event as proportionately and unobtrusively as previous ones should have been. [Update: see also Climate Camp's response]
Obviously the HMIC report, that the Commissioner asked for, there are some recommendations in there as far as protest is concerned. There's the Home Affairs Select Committee report, and there's also the Joint Committee for Human Rights. If you look at all of the recommendations together, they all fit together and I suppose it's best going through what we're doing in relation to Climate Camp, hopefully we can show how we've bedded a number of those recommendations into the stuff that we're doing now.
There follows some defensive comments on the idea that this is the "first test" of the Met since the G20 protests, citing the Tamil protests - "Every day we've been running a protest of some sort in and around London, as that's part and parcel of policing the capital". Fair enough, although the history of Climate Camp itself does make his claim that "the vast majority of events pass off perfectly peacefully" somewhat disingenuous.
The remarks on kettling are a fascinating mix of good news and bad:
Containment still remains a tactic that the police service could or would use in certain circumstances. They are very unusual, it's very rare that we actually use that tactic.
But certainly embedded in the plans that we've got are, from the Silver Commander, how we would actually get the learning out of the Mayday protests, and the learning out of G20. This is around provision of facilities, provision of water, effective communication with the crowd, and the release policy. And that's all included in our plans in the very unlikely event that we have to go to anything like that.
I have to say at the moment there's no intelligence of any disorder in relation to Climate Camp ... Certainly we've got nothing at the moment that suggests we'd need to use containment.
So they reserve the right to contain protestors, even though they admit there probably won't be any need to, but if they do, they'll try to do it nicely. Well, who could have a problem with that?
Overall, Allison's tone is one of earnest innocence, with just a hint of self-righteous reproach.
Working with those reps so we've got a common understanding around things like the use of stop and search, common understanding of how we're going to operate and how we're going to police. It is that idea of a no surprise policy between the two sides. The key for us, though, while we have all that good work and all that liaison going on, is we still don't know where Climate Camp actually is going to take place.
But the issue for us is because we don't know where they're going, a lot of the other stuff we haven't been able to do, around community impact assessment, making sure we've got the right resources in the right places, working with the local authorities concerned - we can't actually do that.
Some might argue that this is a fair point - that the lack of information beforehand makes it very hard for the Met to liaise with interested parties in the community, such as shop or business owners. Others might say that the Met, and certainly not Mr Allison, have not yet earned a position of moral superiority, tut-tutting with gentle disappointment about those naughty activists who aren't playing by the rules. It's a clever setup - if anything does go wrong at this Camp, the Met have already laid down the foundations for the propaganda which would allow them to lay the blame on the activists: Of course, if they'd just told us where they were going to gather, all this unpleasantness could have been avoided!
His last line brazenly builds on this image of wounded innocence:
The style of policing for the camp is going to be a neighbourhood style of policing. That's what we've adopted in the past with a small neighbourhood team trying to look after it on the periphery.
Yeah, right, 'cause that perfectly describes the police response to the Bishopsgate camp.
Allison's concerns about not knowing the location of the Camp are answered by an open letter to the Met from the Climate Camp Media Team, also published yesterday.
Community liaison has been a vital part of every Climate Camp. At Drax in 2006, Heathrow in 2007 and Kingsnorth in 2008, we put a lot of time and effort into spending time with local residents and allaying peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s concerns, and this year will be no different. We have a good track record of building community support for the Camp and for climate change campaigning, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve already been in touch with local Councils across London, and our friendly outreach volunteers will be chatting to the locals from the moment we arrive on site. We plan to be excellent neighbours for as long as weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re there, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be open and welcoming to any local residents with questions or concerns, and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll leave the site spotless when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to go.
As regards health and safety Ã¢â‚¬â€œ thanks for your concern, but again weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got it under control. As with previous Camps, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have great food, water, compost toilets, a team of medics, a wellbeing space, excellent on-site communication, emergency vehicle access, and a family space. We also have a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Safer SpacesÃ¢â‚¬ï¿½ policy and a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Tranquillity TeamÃ¢â‚¬ï¿½ to help keep the site free from oppressive behaviour or aggro. Anyone whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s spent time at past Camps will tell you how friendly and safe the atmosphere is Ã¢â‚¬â€œ better than most mainstream festivals.
Of course, there is one unfortunate exception to all of this. While most visitors to previous Camps have had an inspiring and positive experience, some of us have had to suffer violence, intimidation, theft, sleep deprivation and harassment, thanks to past examples of Ã¢â‚¬Å“pre-planned and proportionate policing operationsÃ¢â‚¬ï¿½. Local communities have been disrupted by police road closures and indiscriminate stops-and-searches. Members of the public have been attacked with batons or arrested on trumped-up charges simply for standing on the perimeter of a campsite (nearly all of them have now been acquitted or had their charges dropped). Judging from past experience, the best thing the police could do to ensure the health and safety of the public at Climate Camp 2009 would be to stay as far away from it as possible.
For some reason I have a feeling that the Met will ignore that last recommendation. But it's a nice try.