A radical analysis of the police role posits that police are primarily utilised by the government, and powerful interests, to suppress dissent, stifle protest and to help maintain the status quo (Scraton 1985; McCulloch 2001: Chp 2).
Within this framework the state is not seen as neutral or above the different powerful sectional interest groups, such as corporations, military, and business leaders. Instead the state is seen to function to preserve, maintain and extend the powers of the dominant groups in society to protect the interests of the powerful over and above those of the less powerful. Within this the police act as one of the more important institutions of social control.
The grassroots protest movements of the 1960s and the 1970s in Australia, the United States and Europe led to confrontations between the newly mobilised middle classes of western society and the police. These clashes, during the anti Vietnam war demonstrations, anti nuclear or anti uranium mining, Aboriginal land and women's' rights actions, prompted an unprecedented questioning of the role of police in society and demands for higher levels of police accountability that continue today (Goldsmith & Lewis 2000).
Whatever framework you bring to the understanding of the role of police in society there is no doubt that they are a powerful force. The police enjoy a high level of public legitimacy and along with the military have a virtual monopoly on legitimate force combined with an array of weapons and tactics that provide the potential for coercion and repression.
Police will inevitably be present at protests. To maximise the effectiveness of protest and avoid the negative consequences of repressive policing we need to understand the tactics that police commonly use and the factors that influence the type of police tactics and attitudes.