Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, speaks frankly about extreme policing tactics and dealing with a new generation of activists that make police look like "complete amateurs"by Shiv Malik / February 2, 2011 / Leave a comment
Click here to read Shiv Malik and Ed Howker’s cover story on the new age of protest
Shiv Malik: The first big union march of the year is 26th March, and the students are laughing at that, saying: “Why is it taking four months to organise one protest when we’ve organised four protests in one month?”
HO: It is a whole new dimension to public order: speed. And a lack of willingness, or less willingness, to engage pre-event, partly because you don’t have pre-event.
SM: When you joined the police force, one of your early assignments was with the Territorial Support Group (TSG)?
HO: I was superintendent in charge of TSG Southwest for two years—that would be late 1980s early 1990s. It was when Le Pen came over and there was serious disorder in London—it must have been mid-1990s.
SM: People talk about riots now, but historically speaking it’s been far more violent in the past. You were in Brixton in the early 1980s. How has policing come on from that?
HO: You could go back further than that. There’s always been outbreaks of serious disorder going back through the mists of time. And they’re not put down by dragoons anymore, but you know there’s a history of violent protest in this country.
Brixton was an explosion around a community rebelling against what was perceived to be extremely heavy-handed [policing] aimed at young black men in Brixton. The start of the riots was SWAMP 82—a stop and search to try and reduce violent robbery that was, as a matter of fact, being committed by young black men in Brixton. But the reaction was perceived as totally disproportionate, and the consequence of that was this huge uprising.
I wasn’t actually policing the riots, but colleagues who did said it was terrifying—the level of violence [towards] what were then unarmed cops armed with dustbin lids. What you saw there was a coming together of a whole new response to a police tactic in terms of violence, and a police force that was so used to policing by consent that it was ill-prepared to deal with that in any other way. What you saw on the television were emergency tactics [by the police]… doing their best in very difficult circumstances.
SM: And the Territorial Support Group (TSG) was formed soon after that…
HO: Well after that, when I was in Brixton in 1983,…