More than two in five forces are unprepared to help police major protests, a report has found.
The failure to ensure their plans were match-fit could undermine forces’ ability to provide cross-border support if the frequency and spread of increasingly violent protests escalates, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said.
The warning comes after Scotland Yard was caught out by the large scale of student protests last November which left officers vastly outnumbered as demonstrators piled in to the Conservative Party headquarters in Millbank, central London.
Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, warned that forces risked being outmanoeuvred by protesters appearing in greater numbers than expected, a desire to test police resources at short notice or by the targeting of multiple venues through the use of Twitter and mobile phones.
“If the frequency and spread of events accelerates and they become more contentious, the resilience for providing cross-border support will not only be tested but potentially undermined when the arrangements put in place by forces have not been proven in practice,” he said.
More than 40% of forces had not tested their plans to mobilise public order resources to help neighbouring forces and some forces may not even have sufficient numbers of trained officers to meet a request for help, inspectors found.
Forces “cannot plan for a quiet world” and the “inherently messy” nature of protests means intelligence should never be expected to be perfect, Sir Denis said.
Instead they must be ready to adapt quickly and swiftly, and change their tactics in real-time to enable them to keep up with the changing nature of protests, he said.
But he warned that changes to police training may take up to two years to have an effect on the ground.
“Learning lessons faster and communicating better with officers on the ground, as well as with the public, will help the police minimise risk and maintain order on the streets,” Sir Denis said.