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Liaise with authorities

When appropriate, liaise with authorities.

Many actions depend on high levels of secrecy for their success and prior liaison with police is not possible. If your action relies of secrecy be aware of issues around surveillance and infiltration by police.

Some activists have strong political standpoints about any sort of communication with police and cite how police liaison can be manipulated by police to control a protest.

Other activists say that prior police liaison can help to minimise the risk that police will overreact to an action and can be useful in reducing the risk of police violence. For some activists, prior disclosure is a strategy aimed at creating dilemma situations for the government.

Liaison can serve to present a respectable face to police, build trust to gain important information, gain negotiating time and space and allow negotiation on minor details of the action without disrupting the entire protest.

Many actions that are publicly promoted, such as marches and rallies, will not be secret and prior police liaison may be undertaken to negotiate details such as traffic control, sound systems or where arrested people may be taken.

If you do decide to liaise with police before an action, ensure that you meet the relevant ‘Operations’ commander and always make sure at least two people undertake the role of police liaison in order to minimise the risk of miscommunication and manipulation. It is not necessary to have a lawyer to do the police liaison but having a lawyer present can sometimes be helpful.

Before deciding to engage with police, it can be worth asking other activists about their experience. It can be worth taking notes during meetings covering any agreements that have been made. Make sure however that you are educated and knowledgeable about your rights prior to such a meeting.

Guidelines for police liaison

  • All police liaison should have the authority and permission of the activist group.
  • All police liaison should be done in pairs of people - never liaise with police alone.
  • Liaison should be with the commanding officer and operational commander of the relevant police unit. This may take some research. Be aware of public relations officers who have no authority. Always ask for the operational commander who has direct control over the officers at the protest site.
  • Be clear about how much authority you have to speak, negotiate or mediate on behalf of your group and don’t overstep it.
  • Prepare what you will say and what information you will or will not provide beforehand. Check with the activist group that all this is okay.
  • Be courteous and respectful of police to gain trust. Also demonstrate that you deserve to be treated respectfully.
  • Be aware of what you can negotiate about and what is non-negotiable (i.e. the position of the banner may be negotiable but the line of people blockading are committed to staying and this is not).
  • Be aware that police may treat women, or people of colour, differently, and may defer to or listen only to men.
  • Be aware of police promises, bluffs and threats. You may get coerced into abandoning all or part of the action. Check out what the police actually mean and clarify their points if you are unclear.
  • Make sure all the information, including threats and promises, is communicated accurately and clearly back to the activists.
  • Write down outcomes from liaison meetings, who was there, discussions. Especially if there are several police liaisonmeetings prior to a protest it is useful to know what was discussed, decided and agreed to at previous meetings.
  • Do not be afraid to highlight inappropriate police behaviour, police violence or excessive force, you may be the only people who have access to the commanding officer.

See Complaints against the police