Friday, 15 October 2010

£200,000 cost of policing peace protest: an outrageous waste of money in face of Tory cuts

Blink and you might have missed it, but on Wednesday, it seems there was something of a peace protest in Brighton. According to The Argus, some 250 police, from across the region, were waiting for about 200 protesters.

There were around 20 arrests - mainly of people not doing what they were told - but everyone had been released without charge by this morning.

The whole policing operation, it has been reported, cost about £200,000 - an outrageous waste of time and money in the face of massive Government cuts, and in the face of warnings that over 1,000 jobs are for the chop.

The decision to spend so much money was one taken by the police themselves. But, as ever, it's the protesters who are singled out for blame, for not telling the police of their plans in advance.
This logic is not only naive and a little simplistic, it's vastly counterproductive.

If the police want to reduce costs for future demonstrations, they must take the lead in building trust with the protest movement. Blaming it for the cost of police operations does exactly the opposite.

The reality is peace protesters come in all shapes and sizes - from Christian grannies to balaclava-clad teens: there simply isn't an single individual or even group of people who has the authority or knowledge to tell the police what everyone's going to do.

Even if there was such a group to negotiate with they probably wouldn't do so anyway, yet: there simply isn't the trust there. For too long many peace protesters have viewed the police as likely to arrest them without warning, hold them accountable for the actions of others, and act as a private security outfit for the arms industry.

If we want to reduce costs in future, the police simply must concebntrate on rebuilding trust with the peace movment.

Here's two things they could do right away:

(i) Investigate whether crimes are being, or have been, committed at the factory itself: do the weapons components made there have the correct export licenses? Is enough done to ensure they don't end up in the wrong hands, and aren't ultimately used to commit unlawful violence, or against civilians?

(ii) Stop blaming the protesters! The cost of policing protests and demonstration is a necessary cost of living in a democracy, and if it's costing too much we must decide, as a society, whether to restrict our democtatic rights to take non-violent direct action, or whether to make the police to spend less money on them.

I agree with many of the commentators who have opined that £200,000 is too much money to spend on policing a peace protest. But I blame the police for deciding to spend it in the first place, not those who feel so strongly about the role a Brighton factory seems to be playing in conflict and war that they are prepared to take to the streets.


  1. Past "peace" protests by Smash EDO have been far from peaceful - I for one am very pleased that the police presence was sufficient to deter them from causing mayhem throughout the city, like they have on previous occasions.

    If anyone is behaving in a counter-productive way it must be Smash EDO.

  2. Thanks Anthony

    I just think we all have to work together to achieve the ultimate aim of making sure future protests about the EDO factory are neither (too) disruptive nor (too) expensive to police.

    Looking backwards at individual behaviour will never achieve this.


  3. Thanks, Ben - I agree entirely, but surely the onus is on Smash EDO to show an ounce or two of willingness to cooperate with the police? Or do you think the fault lies entirely with the police?

  4. Smash EDO have inflicted criminal damage during past protests as well as making a death threat against one the employees in court, this coupled with their refusal to have even the briefest meeting with the police entirely justifies the bill in my view.
    If this group had a history of peaceful protest, or at least of condemning extremists members maybe this would save us all some money.
    The fact that Caroline has, as both the leader of your party and constituency MP for the area the protests occurred in has openly condoned this direct action (vigilantiism) won't have helped the situation.

  5. The biggest cash saving would be to just ban the protesters.

    Seems to have worked in Leicester against EDL.