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Police considering wider range of crowd control powers

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Assistant Commissioner Antoine Daniels (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Legislation likely to give police wider powers in line with England and Wales when dealing with marches and static protests is “being considered”, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

Antoine Daniels, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, said the potential amendments to the law were “still very much an internal discussion, with no current recommendations having been proposed”.

He said the Public Order Act 1986 in the United Kingdom gave police a wide range of powers.

“For example, section 12 denotes that police may impose conditions on marches to prevent serious public disorder, devious damage to property, serious disruption to the life of the community, or intimidation of others,” Mr Daniels said.

“Additionally, the police may impose conditions on static demonstrations to prevent the same as above.”

He said Bermuda already had legislation giving “various powers” to police in relation to protests, including in the Summary Offences Act 1926, the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968 and the Criminal Code 1907.

Mr Daniels added: “Additionally, public events legislation is being considered.”

The assistant commissioner, the BPS’s lead officer for public order, responded in a statement to questions from The Royal Gazette on whether the Bermuda Police Service had implemented recommendations contained in an independent review of its handling of the December 2, 2016 protest.

On that day five years ago, outnumbered police unsuccessfully tried to forge a path through a demonstration to get to Parliament, with some protesters getting pepper sprayed by officers. Police and demonstrators were injured during the clash.

The March 2017 report into the botched operation, by Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead, of the National Police Coordination Centre in the UK, found that planning for the event should have started earlier and should have included a detailed threat assessment, and that more training for police commanders was needed.

The BPS said in its statement this week that after the December 2 protest it “openly acknowledged that its public order training regime had fallen behind”.

Darrin Simons, the acting Commissioner of Police (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Darrin Simons, the acting Commissioner of Police, who declined to be interviewed, said: “This was mainly due to the absence of significant public order incidents, a greater emphasis on the command and response to firearms incidents, the investigation of serious crimes such as gun crime, and our forensic capabilities.”

However, there were numerous political protests between 2012 and 2016.

Renee Ming, now the Minister of National Security, told MPs in 2017 that 26 protests occurred in that four-year period, including Parliament being blocked from sitting in March 2016 by campaigners against immigration reform.

Mr Simons said the "significant increase in gang and gun violence“ between 2010 and 2016 – when there were 391 unconfirmed firearms incidents and 201 confirmed firearms incidents that resulted in 28 deaths and 73 firearm injuries – "consumed the attention” of the BPS.

“There was a concentrated effort to train, equip and position the organisation in response to the greatest threat identified,” he added.

The acting commissioner said since the December 2 protest the BPS had recognised the lack of public order training and “quickly closed that gap”.

“As demonstrated post 2 December 2016, the BPS has successfully planned for and managed multiple public events and significant protests with success,” he said.

“Notwithstanding the difficulties inherent with policing disorder, I am confident that if faced with a similar set of circumstances, we have learned from that experience and would achieve a much better outcome.”

According to the BPS, all police responses to protests since December 2, 2016, “have incorporated advanced planning with the early appointment of a Gold Commander, who provided an overarching strategy to a Silver Commander, who appointed several Bronze Commanders to design plans based on a proper threat/risk assessment”.

Measures implemented by the BPS have included:

* Training from two accredited British public order commanders for ten senior police officers in April 2017.

* A course from the same UK officers for ten BPS officers on “police liaison training”.

* Active training in new tactics for dealing with public protests for the police support unit (PSU), the unit which was deployed in riot helmets on December 2, 2016.

* An intensive public order training programme in the UK for two senior police officers, who achieved Strategic (Public Order) Gold Commander accreditation.

* The appointment of a Public Order Head of Profession responsible for strategy, training, recruitment and ensuring the BPS public order regime remains “current and fit for purpose”.

* All BPS training mirroring that of the UK’s College of Policing National Police Public Order Curriculum.

* Comprehensive briefings and debriefings after significant protests and public events.

* Mandated annual training for all BPS staff and monthly training for the PSU.

Mr Simons said the BPS had responded to and managed “multiple spontaneous public order/protest events and developed strategies for pre-planned events” since 2016, in line with the NPoCC recommendations.

He said the new protocols had yielded success at further airport protests in February 2017, the America’s Cup and Cup Match/Beach Fest the same year, the Pride Parade in 2019, the Butterfield Bermuda Championship since 2019, and the Black Lives Matter march last year.

The NPoCC report contained ten recommendations for the BPS, including “that consideration be given to lobbying for additional appropriate legislation to assist in the management of protests and fill existing legislative gaps”.

Mr Shead said the Public Order Act in England and Wales gave senior officers the power to impose conditions before a protest, including on the location, the maximum duration and the maximum number of participants.

He wrote: “ … this ability would have proved beneficial on December 2. Due to the numbers involved, it would have potentially allowed the exertion of a degree of control over protesters as the situation would have clearly met the serious disruption criteria.

“Even if there was little impact at the time, the ability to demonstrate warnings are given and subsequent non-compliance would represent best evidence to underpin prosecutions and provide a longer term deterrence, particularly when dealing with long-term disputes.”

Governor Rena Lalgie ( File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Rena Lalgie, the Governor, who has responsibility for policing, said: “It is clear to me that the events of December 2, 2016, loom large in memories within the BPS’s leadership and the wider community.

“Work to implement the recommendations in the National Police Coordination Centre report predates my time in office and continues to this day.”

Ms Lalgie added: “There have been many protests and public safety events over the last year or so which have been effectively managed in close collaboration with the relevant organisations and the wider community.”

* To read the full response from the BPS, click on the PDF under Related Media.