A rough guide to police tactics

< a publication on some aspects of the Fiesta

THE FOLLOWING ADVICE is not meant to be scary, but to make people aware that there is more to the police than the smiling postcard bobby giving tourists directions. The point of the Fiesta is playfully serious (or seriously playful) - the disruption of the DSEi arms fair. To achieve this, we need to be aware of the police and their actions.

They have five main aims when faced with a mass action:

  1. To break the crowd up into manageable portions, which they will either keep moving then disperse or, increasingly likely, contain then slowly disperse.
  2. Provoke violence to justify their actions and flush out "ringleaders" for the morning papers.
  3. To contain the crowd and stop the "trouble" spreading.
  4. To intimidate and break the spirit of the crowd.
  5. To gather evidence for later.

Clearly what we have to do is stop them achieving their objectives. The aims of people faced by police violence on a large mass action should be:

  • Getting yourself and your mates away safely, rather than fighting
  • Taking effective action, rather than fighting,
  • Helping others in trouble by administering first aid and de-arresting, rather than fighting.


Always try to form an affinity group before setting out, and at the very least have a buddy system in place, whereby everyone has one person to look out for them and to act with when a situation arises.

Affinity groups are just a handful of people who work together as a unit, as and when circumstances arise. They can meet beforehand to discuss issues and possible reactions, practice or role play scenarios. The more your group meets, the quicker your reaction times will get and your effectiveness will improve. Water, D-locks, paint, first aid, food, banners and spare clothes is a lot for one person to carry, but divided up between 5 people it's nothing.

Dozens of static and handheld still and video cameras now focus on any large (and many small) demonstrations. Given the demonisation of dissent and the big brother implications of this surveillance many people will choose to wear some form of mask. Please respect people's desire not to be filed and classified by the police. The cut off sleeve of a long sleeved t-shirt makes a good mask, and can be worn casually round the neck. Hooded tops cover much of the face, and baseball caps and sunglasses will give some protection.

The Wombles have received a large amount of attention recently, but their use of padded body protection, helmets and their own bodies to protect the crowd from police attack is intended as a tactic rather than the preserve of a particular group. It needs careful forethought and a strong affinity group.


  • Keep looking outwards. Be aware of the police at all times
  • Form cordons around anything or anyone the police may want to attack or snatch. This means simply linking arms or holding hands. An effective way of doing this and leaving one hand free is for everyone to place one hand down the back of the trousers of the person in front. Get consent and make a new friend. Snatch squads may be seen being briefed on their target by senior officers or evidence gatherers.
  • Sitting down can stop the police from charging, but it needs to be done in large numbers by a confident crowd. If the shout goes out to sit down, do it - the more people down straight away, the more people overall will do it. Once down, if all looks good link arms with people around you.
  • The best defence is chaos! A complicated hierarchy (ie the police) needs orders to act on; it takes time for these orders to filter down to the cops on the ground. They cannot cope with constantly changing situations. Keep moving, utilise mad props, change your appearance, weave in and out of the crowd.


The police plan is to control, contain and disperse. Their latest trick is "the Kettle", keeping people contained in an area for several hours before letting them go one by one. They try to search, photograph and take the details of everyone as they let them out. You do not have to give them your details unless you are under arrest.

Avoiding the use of this tactic means constantly keeping moving, not allowing police lines to encircle the crowd. It is possible through weight of numbers to push through police lines (people outside the cordon can help by surrounding them or pushing from the outside), but a better solution is to avoid the lines forming in the first place.

They'll try to divide the crowd up into "actors" and "viewers". Small groups of cops will move into the crowd, encouraging those who'll listen to move onto the pavement or similarly out of the way. Once some people start doing this these groups of cops will get bigger until they form a dividing line, eventually penning two groups in.

To counter this, don't spectate. Move around. Fill gaps that could be used by the police. Use strong banners to block routes the police may use to form lines. Keeping together increases everyone's safety.

Sometimes police lines have to be moved back to allow other exits to be opened up. This means moving our lines into theirs, slowly, with linked arms. Tough tarp banners or crowd control barriers can be used to contain the police.

Fiesta guide index Our greatest "weapon" (irony fully intended) is our creativity and humour. Remember, the police are trained, equipped and psyched up for public order situations. The best way to beat them is to outwit them.

Let's face it, they're rarely the sharpest tools in the box, so how hard can that be?


Heavily nicked from a fuller guide published by Manchester Earth First!, Dept 29, 22a Beswick Street, Manchester, M4 7HS, send a bunch of stamps.