Police Liaison Officers

Police Liaison Officers (PLOs, sometimes known as Protest Liaison Officers) have become a feature of demonstrations and marches since the controversy over the policing of the G20 protests in 2009 and the killing of Ian Tomlinson.

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A month before the scenes of brutal kettling of demonstrators in the City of London, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report {pdf_icon, 1.2 mB] asserting that “the police and protesters need to focus on improving dialogue. The police should aim for “no surprises” policing… They should review how they foster effective dialogue with protesters”. In the aftermath of G20 and the severe criticism of the use of force by riot officers, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) jumped on the idea of ‘dialogue policing’ in its November 2009 review, ‘Adapting to protest – nurturing the British model of policing‘ [pdf_icon, 4 mB]. Its recommendation on ‘Public Order Command Training’ said that “police should seek to inform themselves about the culture and general conduct of particular protest crowds” and that officers on the ground “should engage with crowd members to gather information about their intentions, demeanour, concerns and sensibilities”.

The HMIC review also called for greater clarity about the precise role of Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT), which had previously been set out in 2004 in the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Public Order Training Manual. FIT officers were originally responsible for what has become known as ‘dialogue policing’ – establishing “a dialogue with individuals and groups to gather information and intelligence” alongside identifying individuals and groups “who may become involved in public disorder”. However, HMIC said that the role had “shifted significantly over the past few years, with FITs now often deployed in personal protective equipment and accompanied by photographers to identify and obtain information about protesters. The public order manual does not explain the purpose for which this information is required. This lack of clarity creates the potential for FIT officers to act outside their lawful powers.”

Even HMIC admitted that, in reality, FIT teams were always far more interested in surveillance than they were in ‘dialogue’.

Since the public order manual was updated in 2010, protesters have seen three teams of officers at marches and demonstrations: Evidence Gathering Teams (EGTs), who are deployed with cameras; FIT spotters, who collect detailed “intelligence” based on observation; and PLOs, who took on the responsibility for obtaining information through dialogue. All this was fed back to Bronze and Silver Commanders.

The police have always insisted that PLOs are not used primarily for data gathering. However, there are numerous reasons why protesters have been unable to believe this:

Former FIT officers re-emerging as PLOs

Take CO 89 Sergeant Holland, for example – these pictures show him in as a FIT officer at the student demonstrations in 2011 and as a PLO at a counter Olympics march in 2012

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Sgt Holland on FIT duty at a student demo in 2011

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Sgt Holland as a PLO at Olympics Missiles protest in March 2012

Public admissions of intelligence gathering by PLOs

2011

A former Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lynne Owens told the Home Affairs Select Committee about mass arrests of UKUncut activists at Fortnum & Mason and said:

Q12: We do need to improve the intelligence picture, but our ability to arrest over 200 people at the weekend gives us a very good starting point in terms of building that picture.

 2012

Chief Inspector Sonia Davis, head of the Police Liaison Teams (PLT) unit in the Metropolitan Police, gave evidence as a prosecution witness in the trial of Critical Mass cyclists arrested on the evening of the Olympics opening ceremony. Under cross-examination, Davis admitted that PLTs gather information on protesters and had even been covertly deployed at previous Critical Mass rides to try to identify ‘leaders’.

2014

A review of the policing of anti-fracking protests in Balcombe West Sussex, confirmed that PLOs played “a pivotal role in the operation” by “interacting with the protest organisers” and as a result, “there was intelligence, including open source, to suggest the protest would escalate”. The report complains that it was unclear how PLOs fed back the intelligence they had gathered to their senior officers and concludes:

This is a common issue with usage of PLO teams as a relatively new tactic within UK policing. Consideration of the deployment of a dedicated PLO Bronze may help ensure that important intelligence is appropriately considered within the command structure and that an appropriate intelligence sterile corridor exists between those who are engaging directly with protestors and command.

Due to a blunder, it was possible to read sections of the review that were redacted: one section confirms the use of covert surveillance on campaigners

Video evidence of PLOs harassing an activist at home

In September 2012, the Guardian reported that two plain-clothes Sussex Police officers – one a former FIT officer – turned up at the home of a Brighton campaigner, claiming they were PLOs and asking questions about a forthcoming UK Uncut action in the town:.

In testy exchanges, one officer asks her repeatedly whether she is a member of UK Uncut. She replied that she did not think it necessary for her to say whether she was or not. She asked the officers why they thought she was a member of the campaign.

The officer replied: “Because I have seen you on many demonstrations, and you have been leading the demonstrations. I am not saying that you were the organiser, but you have been a leader on these sorts of things.”

He then asked her who is the organiser of the planned demonstration. She declined to answer his questions.

After passing her film to the Guardian, she said: “It was not building communication or dialogue at all – it was them coming to my house to intimidate me and attempt to gather information.”

What PLOs’ Standard Operating Procedures tell us

In 2013, Netpol obtained the Standard Operating Procedures for Metropolitan Police PLOs, which confirms that “[Police Liaison Teams] are likely to generate high-quality intelligence from the discussions they are having with [protest] group members”. It also says:

“all PLT officers must ensure all intelligence is recorded on Crimint” [a criminal intelligence database] and all intelligence obtained during an event “is passed to Bronze Intelligence for analysis and dissemination to Silver and the rest of the Command Team (in the same way as any other intelligence)”.

See below for a full list of documents released by the Metropolitan Police under this Freedom of Information request.

Numbers of PLOs in English and Welsh police forces

This is a snapshot based on information on the number of officers who had receiving PLO training by the end of October 2013:

PLO_training_England_Wales

Police force Number trained Police force Number trained
Cheshire 15 Merseyside 1
Derbyshire 3 North Wales 5
Essex 12 North Yorkshire 3
Greater Manchester 37 Northumbria 14
Hertfordshire 12 South Wales 28
Humberside 6 South Yorkshire 40
Isle Of Man 2 Suffolk 1
Kent 13 Sussex 45
Lancashire 16 Thames Valley 3
Leicestershire 2 West Midlands 35

Source: response to Freedom of Information request, [pdf_icon, 83kB] – College of Policing, October 2013

An earlier Freedom of Information request [pdf_icon, 32 kB] from January 2013 confirms 30 trained PLOs in the Metropolitan Police, with the intention to increase this to 60 officers.

Scottish police forces have now merged into Police Scotland – accurate figures for PLOs are currently unavailable,

PLO procedures and training materials released by the Metropolitan Police

Standard Operating Procedure for the Operational Deployment of Protestor Liaison Teams (PLT’s) in the MPS pdf_icon – 374 kB

Police Liaison “Gateway” Team – aim and roles pdf_icon – 75 kB

Public Order Actions Book  pdf_icon – 1.05 mB

Public Order Courses – Police Liaison Team Course pdf_icon – 72 kB

Public Order Command & Protest Liaison Teams (PLTs): Course Outline pdf_icon – 100 kB

Timetable – Protestor Liaison Officer Course pdf_icon – 19 kB

Presentation – Crowd Psychology and Communications pdf_icon – 268 kB

Presentation – Engagement and Involvement pdf_icon – 134 kB

Presentation – Human Rights pdf_icon – 184 kB

Presentation – Protestor Tactics – An Introduction for Police Liaison Teams pdf_icon – 734 kB

Police Liaison Team Officer Role Profile pdf_icon – 77 kB

Police Liaison Officers – Warning Placards


You can download these placard designs to use at future demonstrations.

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