Title: "Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists: Taking the Violence Out of Major International Protests"
Author: Scott Allen
Attributed To: Police Chief (The), Washington, V.70,n.2 (February 2003), p.50-55

Protests against government policies are a necessary and legal part of life in a democracy. Police forces share a responsibility to ensure that citizens can conduct their protests in a safe and legal manner.

Document Text:
Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists: Taking the Violence Out of Major International Protests

By Scott Allen, Sergeant, National Security Investigative Service, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Protests against government policies are a necessary and legal part of life in a democracy. Police forces share a responsibility to ensure that citizens can conduct their protests in a safe and legal manner.

In recent years, major meetings of organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and others have drawn the attention of antiglobalization and anticapitalism protestors.

Violence at these protests has become a major cause of concern for law enforcement and security agencies. The Battle in Seattle, as protests during a 1999 world trade meeting have come to be known, was followed by violent events during protests in Quebec City, Genoa, and Ottawa. The violence in Genoa resulted in at least one fatality.

The Group of Eight (G8), an international economic organization whose membership consists of the world's seven leading economies (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Italy) plus Russia, held its 2002 summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada, last June. As early as July 2001, law enforcement experts there learned that the stage was being set for another round of protests in the streets. It set out to find a way to minimize the violence.

Security Decisions

The April 2001 protests in Quebec City surrounded the Third Summit of the Americas, a meeting of the heads of state from the 34 democratic nations of the Americas. Violence was widespread; police arrested some 400 persons and fired 1,700 rounds of gas in an effort to protect international political leaders inside a chain link fence perimeter. Protests coinciding with a meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20), an expanded version of the G8, in Ottawa in November 2001 resulted in 50 arrests. Police used tear gas, tactical police, and dogs.

Organizers of the June 2002 G8 Summit meeting in Kananaskis were determined to avoid another round of escalating violence. In addition, there was a change in the international security environment brought about by the events of September 11, 2001. The fact that leaders of eight Western nations were planning to attend was a major security concern. As such, several key decisions were made that led to the near elimination of violence.

First, the main meeting of the G8 leaders was moved out of the national capital of Ottawa, the traditional meeting location. Instead, the main meeting of leaders would be held with substantially smaller staffs in Kananaskis, Alberta. This resort is situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and has only one main access road. It is isolated and surrounded by heavily forested areas with a healthy population of grizzly bears and other wildlife.

A large police and military presence in the woods rendered the new site even less attractive to would-be violent protestors. Finally, Canadian military officials stated openly that discriminating between protestors and potential terrorists would be difficult in the heavily wooded terrain, and that protestors would be at greater risk if they strayed too close to the summit's main meeting location.

As a result, most protestors decided to avoid the main meeting site in Kananaskis. Instead, they organized their protests for the nearby city of Calgary and the national capital of Ottawa. Their main events were scheduled for June 26-27, 2002.

As the protestors' planning cycle unfolded, however, it became apparent that the demonstrators who most favored "direct action" and who would support a "diversity of tactics" were planning their protests for Ottawa. A protest group known as Take the Capital became active in February 2002 and began to draw support from a number of other organizations--some of them with known violent tendencies. Larger established protest groups, such as labor organizations, were headed for Calgary. Some of them said they wished to avoid the potential violence in Ottawa.

Integrated Policing and Law Enforcement Planning in Ottawa

Planning and executing a major international security operation is probably beyond the capability of any one police force, no matter how large or competent it is. Integrated policing for large events is necessary. Today's protests can draw thousands of participants from many different cities and countries.

As such, the G8 security operation for Ottawa involved officials from many different services and agencies. Among these were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Ottawa Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Quebec Provincial Police, the Gatineau Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, and the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency.

Additionally, representatives from other concerned agencies such as fire departments and paramedics were kept informed and were an integral part of all planning and operations. Egos were checked at the door and the size or perceived power of an individual agency was not allowed to determine the information process.

Given the international attention to the G8 meeting and the risks to the leaders of eight different countries, law enforcement information sharing became an absolute necessity. This type of cooperation at the international level was, and will continue to be, a key factor in reducing the risk of violence at international meetings. Direct sharing with American agencies was also a key factor, given the nearness of Canada's border with the United States. Various U.S. law enforcement agencies provided important information, and cooperation at the international border worked well. Communication with other major municipal police forces provided useful planning information. Organizers put out feelers to Europe to track any known Europeans who might try to destabilize the meetings through violence.

The necessary planning could not have occurred without the information flow provided by integrated policing. The result could have been another round of violent protests that endangered lives and damaged property.

The Soft Hat Approach

Ottawa planners also made what was initially seen as a controversial decision. They decided to adopt a "soft hat" approach with respect to all law enforcement practices. No new barriers of any type would be erected in advance of the protests. No blocking of public parks would occur, not even in those park areas where protestors were known to be gathering for marches. No tactical police were to be seen by the public or the protestors. Tactical police squads were to be kept in buses and vans close to the action but out of sight.

The Ottawa Police Service in conjunction with the RMCP formed a major events liaison team (MELT), which would hold public meetings with protest groups and other concerned citizens. Other police forces contributed members-another example of integrated policing. Members of the MELT held public meetings with protestors and other concerned citizens and tried to contact all known organizers and participants in G8 related demonstrations. The MELT would also be required to meet all buses full of protestors as they arrived in the city. MELT members were dressed either in civilian clothes or in police-style shorts and golf shirts clearly marked "police liaison." The MELT was regularly supported by information provided by other agencies.

Iron Fists

While the decision had been made to avoid any visible action that could be perceived as heavy-handed or provocative to protestors, other decisions were made to ensure the safety of police officers, citizens, and protestors.

For example, tactical police were kept close to the scene and ready at all times throughout the protest period of June 26-27. Real-time surveillance footage from several tracking cameras mounted on buildings was sent back to the command center. Video downlinks from the RCMP helicopter camera and the Ottawa Police Service fixed-wing aircraft were also sent in real time to the command center and were used to track the protests, demonstrators, and buses.

A large temporary holding facility was installed in a warehouse in downtown Ottawa. Its purpose was to ensure that the handover of arrested persons would be carried out efficiently during any mass arrests. The existence of this facility as well as its location were known to the public and protestors ahead of time. It may have served as a deterrent to some potentially violent protestors.

Buses arriving in Ottawa for the protests were met by the MELT, and MELT members using digital cameras openly photographed all persons arriving on protest buses. Police also tracked any cars and vans known to be carrying persons in violation of parole or arrest conditions. The message to would-be violent protestors was made clear: "You are welcome in Ottawa, but illegal activities will result in a swift reaction." This message was also made clear by statements from the mayor and city councilors.

During the protest periods, the march gathering points and routes were saturated with police officers from different services. Plainclothes personnel were in the crowd and communication specialists were on the street in plainclothes to provide real-time tactical information about persons involved in illegal or violent acts. Uniformed officers were stationed along the parade routes. Persons who attempted to spin off from the main protest were followed and restricted from carrying out acts of vandalism as they had planned. Police evidence-gathering teams were also plainly in view with cameras and other equipment.

Intelligence-Led Policing

Many senior Canadian police officials have advocated the concept of intelligence led policing. For the protests in Ottawa, a joint intelligence group (JIG) was formed to provide accurate and timely intelligence to decision makers. The JIG consisted of members from the many different police and security agencies noted above.

The JIG became formally active about four months before the protests to ensure a complete sharing of information. It began a vigorous program of information use that included normal police databases and the Internet. Large commercial information databases such as Dialog and Newscan were regularly used to provide both historical and current information on persons, tactics, and protestor planning.

The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was also used for its additional international content. Sources provided valuable information on tactics and plans. The source information operations also received input from the JIG, enabling it to better target key meetings and persons. JIG meetings were held weekly and later biweekly to ensure a constant informal flow of information in addition to the JIG reports that were distributed.

As a result of JIG information, all buses traveling to Ottawa for the protests were identified before they left their cities of origin. They were tracked en route, which allowed the MELT to meet them on arrival. All protestors who were known to have violent criminal records or who warranted special treatment, were identified ahead of time. A book of their photos and other information was provided to street-level personnel. Protest leaders, especially those with policies of violence or violent records, were also identified and tracked.

A Successful Outcome

The protests in Ottawa had a serious potential for violence. Rather ominously, protests coinciding with a meeting of G8 finance ministers in Halifax the week before had turned violent; police arrested 38 and used gas to disperse the crowd.

Meanwhile, leaders of protests scheduled to take place June 26-27 in Ottawa had publicly stated their intention to commit violent acts or to attack private property in Ottawa. The protestors had gone so far as to publish a list of targets, including private and government buildings and the residences of some private Ottawa citizens as well. Sources in the crowd could smell gasoline at some points and many protestors were dressed with bandanas to cover their faces. Persons were spotted in the crowd holding crowbars, various projectiles, paint, and combustibles. Protest leaders had also organized classes in maintaining jailhouse solidarity and "unarresting" someone who was being arrested.

In the end, two days of protests in Ottawa were carried out without any major incidents. Police arrested only five persons during this time, and no major acts of violence occurred. The only injury reported occurred when a police officer was pulled off his bicycle during a brief scuffle with protestors. Vandalism was kept to a minimum and no fire damage occurred, except for the burning of a garbage bin that was set afire before the protests began.

Police contained a so-called snake march, which had been the main focus of protestor-planned violence. Many of the protest leaders were afraid that they would be identified and arrested as soon as they stepped into the march. As such, the snake march was largely leaderless. Sources in the crowd reported that the marchers became disorientated and did not know what their intended route was or where they were supposed to stop for other activities. In short, the protest leadership evaporated at the critical moment and its absence was a key factor in the very low level of violence and dislocation caused by the march. Intelligence work was a key factor in achieving this success.

Lessons Learned

Moving the G8 leaders meeting to Kananaskis, a remote resort, isolated the major event from the protestors and helped secure the safety of the various national leaders and others by reducing the threat level and simplifying security.

Police contained the volatile and potentially lethal protests in Ottawa using a number of tactics, including the following:

* The "soft hat" approach, which offered no police targets to those protestors who were looking for violence

* International intelligence gathering and information sharing, which led to a thorough understanding of the violent intentions and plans of some protestors

* Source information operations, which provided good information and shaped the thinking of leading potentially violent protestors

* Saturation of marches by uniformed police, which frustrated the attempts of "spin off" protestors from carrying out acts of violence or vandalism

* The MELT approach, which acted to defuse some of the tensions while at the same time ensuring that would-be violent protestors were met on arrival in Ottawa and made aware of the likely police response to any acts of violence


There is an anarchist commentary on this article and some 50 comments on that commentary at