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Police protest plan revealed

Police and protesters clash outside the House of Assembly at the December 2 demonstration (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A restricted document written by Bermuda’s most senior police commanders before the December 2 protest reveals that they considered the political climate to be “very sensitive” and planned for officers at the scene to “use the least intrusive and coercive law enforcement measures if confronted by protesters”.

The operational order, obtained from the Bermuda Police Service by The Royal Gazette through public access to information, has been redacted in several places and blank spaces appear in place of the signature of its authors, referred to as the Silver and Gold Commanders.

But the 37-page paper shows that on November 30 the high-ranking officers drafted a plan for dealing with the demonstration outside the House of Assembly, based on “unconfirmed intelligence information” that a protest was expected on December 2.

The risk assessment given to the event was “medium” — a grading that remained the same when an amended order was issued on December 2 — with the authors noting: “This operational order is in place to deal with any spontaneous incidents of antisocial behaviour.

“Whilst there is no intelligence that there are any direct threats to person or property attending the HOA, the current political climate in Bermuda is very sensitive.

“In the past few weeks, there has been a marked increase in the number of reports of ‘graffiti’ espousing anti-One Bermuda Alliance support. Therefore, incidents of antisocial behaviour cannot be ruled out.”

A supplementary order, written after 9am on December 2, said information gathered that morning suggested protesters were stopping MPs from entering Parliament, where they were due to debate the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the airport, and were “standing outside the four gates to the HOA and locking arms when people attempt to enter the grounds”.

The supplementary order said: “The overarching methodology will be to use the least intrusive and coercive law enforcement measures possible to reduce harm.”

The parts of the document made public by the BPS make no specific mention of pepper spray, the use of which by police against demonstrators on December 2 has been criticised and is to be investigated by a senior UK police officer.

The order says police had to be “equipped with their BPS-issued officer safety equipment before being deployed” including protective vests.

They were to be positioned at the perimeter of Sessions House “but ready to respond to any incidents of physical or verbal threats of harm or to any situation that may unduly cause an interruption to the normal business of the HOA”.

According to the November 30 order, the number of protesters likely to gather was “unknown” but they were expected to get there “early Friday morning”.

Officers from five separate units — including the police support unit, often referred to colloquially as the “riot squad” — were to be deployed in the “first instance”, with officers from the crime division to be brought in if necessary.

The preferred outcome of the operation was to have the protest pass off safely “without the need for significant intervention”.

An “unacceptable” outcome was for there to be “disproportionate use of resources and/or powers”.

“The Silver Commander, when briefing personnel, are (sic) to remind officers of the rights of a person to protest in a peaceful and lawful manner,” the document states.

“Officers deployed at the protest should be directed to use the least intrusive and coercive law enforcement measures if confronted by protesters.

“Police officers, in carrying out their duties, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent methods before resorting to any use of force.

”Police officers should only use force when strictly necessary and where other means remain ineffective to having no realistic chance of achieving the lawful objective.”

The document sets out — “in the event that an incident occurs which requires the use of force or for an arrest to be made” — which offences may have been committed, including disturbing the legislature.

BPS information officer Inspector David Geraghty said the order was redacted because there were portions which could disclose policing methods and prejudice their effectiveness.

He said there were sections which, if released, could “endanger the physical or mental health or the safety of an individual”.

As well as the “op order”, The Royal Gazette’s Pati request asked for correspondence between the BPS and any individual outside the police service regarding the decision to deploy riot police, prior to the decision being enacted.

Mr Geraghty said the BPS held no such records.

To read the “op order” and the response to our Pati request, click on the PDFs above under Related Media.