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Police tactics at protests

Police have a great deal of discretion in the way they deal with protests. Police do not mechanically enforce the law and will often ignore minor breaches of the law.

Enforcing the law actually makes up a small proportion of police action at protests. Police are also aware of civil disobedience and its use as a political tactic and will sometimes not arrest to undermine the political meaning generated by arrest and subsequent court and legal processes.

Police often play a careful and strategic role at protests, which is most often designed to maintain control (Alderson 1998; Della Porta and Reiter 1998). Having said that, police often make mistakes, misinterpret the situation and choose highly ineffective tactics.

There are four very common police approaches to controlling protest actions:

  1. Negotiation and directives - Commands, orders, threats, bluff or negotiations
  2. Accommodation - Standing by and watching
  3. Containment - Fences, barriers, police lines, horses etc.
  4. Use of Force and the Law - Arrest, force, use of weapons and violence

See also:

The material in the following section was compiled by Anthony Kelly and used the following references:

Alderson, J (1998) Principled Policing: Protecting the Public with Integrity , Winchester: Waterside Press

Baker, D (1998) Trade unionism and the policing accord: control and self-regulation of picketing during the 1998 maritime dispute' Labour and Industry no 9 vol 3 pp. 123-144

Barry, B (1987) Baiting the Tiger: Police and protest during the Vietnam War' in (ed) Finnane, M Policing in Australian Historical Perspectives , Kensington, New South Wales: New South Wales University Press

Della Porta, D & Reiter, H (1998) Policing Protest: The control of mass demonstrations in Western democracies , Minnesota: Minnesota University Press

Ericson & Doyle (1999) Globalization and the policing of protest: the case of APEC' British Journal of Sociology vol 50 no 4 pp. 589-608

Kelly,A, et al, (2007) Human Rights Observer Team Final Report: G20 Protests, Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic) Inc

Gillham, P & Marx, G (2000) Complexity and irony in policing and protesting: the World Trade Organisation in Seattle Social Justice vol . 27 no. 2 pp. 212-236

Goldsmith, A & Lewis, C (eds) (2000) Civilian Oversight of Policing: Governance, democracy and human rights Oxford: Hart

Lawson, D (2000) Copping it at S11 Overland no 161 pp.14-16

Jefferson, T (2000) The Case Against Paramilitary Policing , Open University Press: Milton Keyes

McCulloch, J (2001) Blue Army: Paramilitary policing in Australia Carlton: Melbourne University Press

McCulloch, J (2000) Capsicum spray: safe alternative or dangerous chemical weapon? Journal of Law and Medicine Feb 2000 vol 7 pp. 311-24

McCulloch, J & Clayton, M (1996) Victoria on the Move! Move! Move! Alternative Law Journal pp. 103-108

Scraton, P (1985) The State of the Police, London and Sydney: Pluto Press

Victoria Police Manual General Category – Operations Topic – Public Order VPM Instruction 107-1 Crowd control