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Police were warned December 2 tactics could result in injuries

The police commanders who led the December 2, 2016 operation to gain access to Parliament chose a tactic which they were told that morning could result in injuries to the public, including some seniors, and officers.

Front line: a Bermuda Police Service officer targets protesters with pepper spray at the Reid Street gate to the Sessions House grounds during the December 2, 2016 protest. (Photograph by Kevin Smith)

An e-mail, released to The Royal Gazette under public access to information, was sent to the Gold and Silver Commanders leading the operation by the Bermuda Police Service’s tactical adviser at 11.13am, listing the “public order tactical options” for dealing with the protest against the new airport deal.

Almost exactly two hours later, a police support unit (PSU) wearing riot helmets and carrying pepper spray marched in formation to Sessions House and tried, unsuccessfully, to use a “bubble” tactic to meet the police’s strategic objective of gaining access through the main gate to allow the House of Assembly to sit.

“They met resistance from the crowd and some officers were assaulted,” according to an independent review of the operation by the UK-based National Police Coordination Centre.

“Some officers deployed incapacitant spray and a call for urgent assistance was made.”

The tactical adviser, whose name was redacted from the Pati disclosure by the BPS due to safety concerns, listed pros and cons under each option.

Option one was to do nothing but risk a) Failing to achieve the strategic objective and b) “Police perceived to do nothing, damaging public confidence.”

The list for the first scenario said c) “Police do not cause injuries to civilian protesters and d) ”Police do not get injured“.

The second option was the “bubble” tactic, which had ten pros and cons:

a) Police secure an access point to the House of Assembly. The area outside the bubble will not be controlled.

b) Injuries to public. Some protesters are elderly.

c) Injuries to police.

d) Mass number of arrests, requiring resources and custody areas.

e) Perceived heavy handedness of the police.

f) Instigating further unrest.

g) Escalating violence by the protesters.

h) Damaging public confidence in the police with protesters and their supporters.

i) Enhancing public confidence with other members of the public not involved.

j) Denting public image of Bermuda internationally.“

The third option – for “full kit police support unit shield tactics” – had the same list, apart from the mass arrests.

The tactical adviser wrote: “Based on the strategic objective, it is more than likely there will be a physical altercation.

“Consideration must be given before executing the preferred option to how the legislators will get to the House, even if the gate is cleared, as we do not have sufficient resources to open all the roads to the House and keep them open.

“Protesters could easily block the road on the outside of the bubble.”

The tactical options were redacted from an operational order released by the BPS to the Gazette in response to a Pati request in January 2017, on the grounds that sharing the information would reveal policing methods.

But Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez disagreed and ordered police to disclose the information in a 2019 decision.

The BPS complied with her decision the following year. The later disclosures – published here for the first time – included the “op order” with the tactical options listed, the original e-mail from the tactical adviser, and an 11-page public order tactical advisers log marked restricted, confidential and secret.

Superintendent James Howard and Acting Chief Inspector Christopher Clarke were the Gold and Silver Commanders, respectively, on December 2, 2016. Mr Clarke has since left the BPS.

They chose option two – a tactic later described by the NPoCC’s Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead as “futile” and one which prompted protesters to “become aggressive and actively resist.”

But Mr Shead said it was understandable that it seemed like the only alternative if the command team – “undoubtedly” feeling under pressure to enable the House to sit – was to achieve its aim of enabling MPs to enter Parliament.

As history records, the tactic failed. Protesters and police were hurt and officers withdrew.

The whole operation was stood down after Randy Horton, the Speaker of the House, decided that MPs would not sit that day.

The log notes in the morning that “Gold” wanted a “graduated response but to allow access to the legislature” and “main gate to be opened for access.”

It stated that “CoP” – Michael DeSilva, the Commissioner of Police – wanted “MPs to sit in House.”

Event notes from the day, also disclosed by the BPS after the Information Commissioner’s review, recorded the commissioner as saying that morning: “The communication language with the Speaker is very important; that the decision of the Speaker to change the HOA date is his (the Speaker’s) decision alone.”

The note records that Mr DeSilva spoke to Mr Horton just before 10am and stressed the BPS did not want to influence his decision.

A later note records a discussion among the commanders about the tactical options at 12.25pm.

The commissioner knocked on the door while the meeting was ongoing and spoke to Mr Clarke outside. Mr DeSilva is recorded as telling the Silver Commander that the House would sit at 1pm.

“CoP directs that it is time for deployment,” it states in the note, adding that the commissioner said a radio station – the name of which was redacted – was "advising an island-wide strike, and for people to stand down and attend the HOA.“

Mr Howard told his team a few minutes later that it was time to deploy measures to assist with the House sitting.

The NPoCC inquiry found that the police records did “not provide clarity on what direction was given regarding which tactics to use nor a clear rationale as to why a particular tactic was chosen or decision made.”

The report concluded that planning for the operation should have started sooner and that officers and staff found themselves “facing hitherto unexperienced levels of determination which they are not adequately trained for.”

Mr Shead made ten recommendations for change. Acting police commissioner Darrin Simons declined to be interviewed but provided a statement this week on the measures since taken by the BPS.

* To view the tactical log, event notes and operational order, click on the PDFs under Related Media. The op order has been highlighted throughout by the RG to show the information redacted by the BPS in an earlier disclosure.