Watching you, Watching me….

camera van

Camera’s and Filming.

The Police want to engage with football fans at every opportunity, but equally it would be wrong of us to say that we don’t also have a job to do.  In the West Midlands we took the decision that every FIO (Football Intelligence Officer – your club officers e.g @WMPBCFC) would use a body worn camera, some spotters would use a hand held camera and at the Cat C games additional Evidence Gathering Teams would be deployed. The Football Unit also owns a ‘camera van’ that you will regularly see at fixtures or other significant events across the force area.

We do identify vantage points to film from (so you have probably seen us…) – such as over bridges etc, because we know that this makes us even more visible to everyone in the area and that there is a ‘deterrent’ effect to filming certain individuals.

What we don’t do is routinely film for great lengths of time or when ‘nothing’ is happening and we don’t film ‘indiscriminately’ – that is to say everyone and anyone that happens to be sitting in the stands. Having said that, we do acknowledge ‘collateral intrusion’ a Police phrase which  recognises that by purely being in the area, the recording may capture people walking by etc, even when they are not the focus or objective of the filming. I would urge all of those well behaved fans to consider that if a camera is pointing in their general direction (particularly in the stands) then the likelihood is that it is zoomed in on a very small number of people which is unlikely to be them…

This is the area that seems to cause fans most concern. CCTV is now in almost all towns or cities and in the grounds. It is part of every day life whether you agree with it or not. In any post match investigation for serious disorder not just our camera footage is recovered, but also the film from shops / overhead cameras / coaches / even private camera’s on houses etc. These are all potentially evidential and they all give a different perspective which allows the Police to build a comprehensive picture of events. These cameras capture an even wider cross section of the public and so whilst people may be uncomfortable – it happens, but once it’s in Police hands there are safeguards that we will put in place under the Data Protection Act etc.

We have tried to reassure people previously about filming especially when using the camera van, by using the relevant Twitter account to tell fans that we ‘are not’ filming – it is after all just another vehicle that we can use on the day and sometimes need to use just to get around. Our logistical needs should not be forgotten in this!

I often read comments about CCTV in grounds and Police accessing this. We do look at this, but the ground CCTV is under the management of the Club Safety Officer and very often the club priority is different to the Police and so their cameras (albeit good ones) are often focusing on the majority and not the minority as we would be.

We do however film our ‘risk’ groups when they congregate at key times and at known flashpoints, because our experience is that their coming together has the potential to erupt into spontaneous disorder with away fans. We know that certain areas attract more disorder – for example outside of specific pubs or close to away coach parks and we know who is more likely to provoke or engage in that disorder. If that is intimidating to certain individuals or groups, but it stops serious disorder or captures evidence to identify an offender at a later date – is that an acceptable and proportionate tactic?  In our view, absolutely.

Is it a roving film of everyone buying their burger – no it is not, but it is an evidential recording of groups of interest to police and who they are associating with and what their actions are.

What we are very clear about in the West Midlands is that if you are coming to Police attention then it is more than likely the FIO / Spotters (not the majority of Police at grounds) will have already spoken to you about your actions and will be with you or close by you throughout the day. This is ultimately their job and I make no apology for that. What should reassure the majority is that if you are not in the scenario outlined above, then it is unlikely that you are being filmed.

In a court case video evidence is incredibly persuasive so it is important that we comply with PACE and other legislation to ensure that footage can be used evidentially. Equally footage can also prove that a person was not involved in offending behaviour. Cameras also record the actions of and the voice of the officer so I / we can assess very quickly if the officer was proportionate in their actions, as well as if the circumstances support the officers decision making. I am sure that for some, cameras do alienate, but for others they reassure and policing is a balance.

All officers using cameras complete mandatory training managed by the College of Policing which covers the relevant legislation, data protection and download / storage requirements.  All West Midlands FIO’s and spotters attended this accredited training this summer.

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And we’re off….!

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My last blog promised that we would update you on how the season is developing from a Football Policing Unit view and sharing with you incidents of note – good and not so good..

The overwhelming message from the last two weeks is how great the vast majority of fans have been. The Football officers for Wolves and Villa noted how well behaved their away fans were at Bristol City and Arsenal respectively. Equally what a pleasure it was to meet the Rotherham Fans as well as the great behaviour of all 253 Crawley fans that travelled to the West Midlands.
Arrest levels have been low, but a couple of incidents really stand out that are being investigated:

I specifically mentioned Crawley fans, because their good behaviour and low numbers made it all the more frustrating when one of their coaches had the windows smashed as it was leaving the Coach Park. This was one of the first Police Free fixtures at Wolves and although the Spotters and Football officers were in the area, this incident makes it difficult to justify very low levels of Policing at certain grounds – even if there is a will on all sides to see this more in the future.
We would urge Wolves fans who know those involved or who may have influence over them to consider the impact of their behaviour and where possible to ‘self police’ this. Perhaps an unsual request but a request all the same…

In a similar incident coaches were targetted as they left Aston Villa following the Liverpool game. Bizarely between the offenders and the coaches were a number of Villa fans in cars who by default were also threatened by the same bottles etc. This just demonstrates the mindlessness of the behaviour. Both incidents are being investigated by the Football Unit and we are working with the licencees at all of our grounds to address alcohol fuelled behaviour.

Coaches and travel to games seems to have been the theme. Coaches should comply with the guidance given by the Traffic Commissionaire and advise Police forces when they are travelling to games. At WBA this week we expected 7 coaches and 14 arrived, equally at Villa last night 14 coaches were expected (and arrived) but some 25 minibuses also did. All of this can create logistical difficulties for both Police and the clubs. Equally some of our early games have suffered home and away from motorway closures – causing fans to either turn around and go back or arrive late. I would strongly advise coach parties to follow our twitter accounts and let us know of delays so that we can plan for your arrival at the grounds.
The key has got to be that if we dont know about your travel arrangements or difficulties – we cant help!

Th Good, The Bad and the Ugly…

good-bad-ugly-odd

One of the objectives of the Football Unit having a ‘blog’ was to share with you aspects of our work around Policing Football. Followers of the @WMPFootballUnit Twitter feed will know that every Thursday we have a football meeting that debriefs the games over the last week and looks forward to the forthcoming fixtures. We thought that this season it would be an opportunity to share some of those highs and lows with you…

By far the best ‘story’ of the weekend was Wolves away at Preston. They took in the region of 5000 supporters which is a fantastic turnout with no arrests or incidents that caused any Police concern. With great support and behaviour we would expect Wolves to continue to get such high ticket allocations where the grounds can manage this… Similarly Villa played at Shamrock Rovers, with special mention going to AVFC Dublin Lions who hosted the bulk of the supporters. They had great liaison with the Police throughout and put on a range of events to give their visiting fellow fans a great weekend away. Its fair to say it seems there was a great atmosphere in both towns before hand and again no concerns raised by the police.

More locally Walsall welcomed Tranmere and Blues Watford. The vast majority of all fans were well behaved, but the actions of a few are notable. Two yellow smoke bombs were let off in St Andrews by Watford fans, but the low overhaging roof made this a particularly unpleasant experience for those in that area. Then a small number of Tranmere fans ripped off netting covering seats at Walsall to enable them to move forward into this ‘sterile’ area. They then stood throughout the game, but blocking vomitories and gangways nearby. Crossing that line even further, five Coventry City fans were arrested at Crawley for ‘Pitch Encroachment’.In this case some of those fans admitted to dancing around the centre circle, meaning the game had to be temporarily stopped….

After the games the train carrying the bulk of the Tranmere supporters back to New Street after the game was pelted with bricks and bottles and we are working with BTP to investigate this. Fortunately it seems that no one was injured, but still a frightening experience for those on board. Then a small group of Birmingham and Watford fans engaged in more serious disorder at the entrance to New Street Staion. This caused a lot of confusion and delay to other fans inside New Street as Police tried to identify those potentially involved.

Overall there were 11 fans arrested at the matches, which for the size of the travelling support is a very small number, but never the less still too high. It is the case that smoke bombs, pitch encroachmnet and reports of violence all get noted by Clubs and Police forces nationally when planning their future fixtures. We cannot stress enough that whilst Policing should always be proportionate, the pre plannig will consider the ‘threat and risk’ of every fixture and sadly the poor behaviour of the minority can really influence the Policing Operation.

Pre Season Friendlies – or not….?

We are rapidly approaching the start of the new Football Season and all of our clubs are in the midst of their Pre Season ‘friendly’ build up. These games are managed by the West Midlands Football Unit in exactly the same way as every league fixture. The dedicted Football Intelligence officer will link in with their ‘home’ counterpart in advance of the game and then on the day the Football Intelligence Officer and at least one club ‘spotter’ attend the fixture (not including internationals).

The ‘out of season’ period is also a time when Police Forces nationally review their local ‘data’ and the UKFPU (United Kingdom Football Policing Unit) report on the national developments / trends. We are still awaiting the end of season report to be published by UKFPU but the mid way report suggested arrests at fixtures are continuing to drop, but instances of reported disorder are increasing. Certainly West Midlands experience would be that disorder and use of pyrotechnics increased throughout last season. Of note was that in the West Midlands more arrests were for Affray and Public Order offences and not the traditional Drunk Entry or Drunk in View offences that you may expect to see contributing to the arrest figures.

It is therefore disapointing to note that from the 2013 – 2014 pre season friendlies, we have already recorded behaviour that not only impacts on those fans nearby but could lead to arrest. This includes the use of smoke grenades (although one male was arrested and found to be in possession of more), particularly aggresive and anti social behaviour towards stewards, pitch encroachment and by away fans coming to us, significant damage to a club bar area. In addition British Transport Police in our area have advised that they are investigating a number of incidents including the emergency stopping of a busy passenger service when the Emergency Chord was pulled by football fans.

At the start of last season West Midlands Police gave an explicit direction that officers were to put engagement before public order as the match day policing priority. As a football unit we were and are passionate about getting to know and conversing with as many of our clubs supporters as possible. There is however only a certain amount of time in the day and increasingly our activity is being directed towards the unnacceptable behaviour of the few. We know this involves the minority and to be fair its our job. I want to assure anyone reading this that where there is the evidence and its right to do so, I will ensure that either we or the local officers go back and make that arrest or take appropriate action following a vountary attendance if its not done at the time.

As a unit we do not have a performance criteria around arrests, but what we do have is a strong sense of whats acceptable football banter and what has crossed the line into offending behaviour. We understand what the law requires and allows us to do and as we start the new season I want to remind and reassure fans that we may be friendly, but we will do our job.

Policing Walsall FC v Shrewsbury Town FC 2013

Walsall FC Policing badge

On Saturday 2nd March2013, Walsall hosted Shrewsbury Town in a league fixture. Prior to this season, the two clubs had last met in 2007 in the FA Cup and that fixture resulted in one of the most serious incidents of Football Disorder that the West Midlands has ever seen. From that incident there were over 20 arrests & convictions for Violent Disorder all with Banning Orders imposed. 

This season on October 14th Walsall were away to Shrewsbury where again there was serious disorder. This time there were 18 arrests on the day, numerous injuries reported (including to Police Officers) and following press releases in both areas, approximately a further 20 arrested. The investigation into this case continues.

 So in summary over the last two games almost 60 arrests for serious disorder.

 As the game approached we received numerous intelligence reports, specifically intimating that disorder between sections of the two rival fan groups was again planned and it was clear that a significant Policing operation would be required. All of this at a ground whose games are regularly Police Free.

Planning meetings were held with Walsall Football Club, British Transport Police and The Saddlers Club (a private Social Club within the ground, used by home and away fans). There were many ideas discussed by the police and the club, these included:

  • All ticket for both sets of fans
  • Early Kick off time
  • No alcohol sales inside the ground                  

Ultimately none of the above were enforced and the only pre match ‘tactic’ used was to make the game all ticket for the travelling Shrewsbury fans. This was in keeping with our wider policy of not becoming involved with kick off times / TV arrangements etc.

Resourcing wise, the game would be managed by one Bronze Commander (at the ground) deploying  4 Public Order PSU’s (12 vans), four dogs, a prisoner handling capability and officers to deploy a mobile barrier – referred to as an ‘iron horse’. 

Our objective: 

  • Deliver a friendly, engaging and reassuring police presence which allows genuine football supporters to enjoy their day out at the match
  • Efficiently resource this event in a way that is proportionate to the intelligence and information we have.

As part of our engagement strategy and ‘no surprises’ we released a number of ‘tweets’ in the run up to the game, advising fans that there would be extra police on duty and reminding Shrewsbury fans that it was all ticket. On the day officers were deployed in and around Walsall Town Centre, the train stations and in Birmingham City Centre.

Our focus – as in all games, was to identify those supporters early on, who we recognise as having participated in, or attempted to provoke disorder previously and to respond to their behaviour on the day proportionally, but robustly. In doing so the vast majority of other fans should see little difference, other than an increased presence and slightly different arrangements at the end of the game. 

Prior to kick off, in Birmingham City Centre, a group of 6 Shrewsbury supporters were identified and issued with Sec 27 direction to leave notices. Subsequently one failed to leave the area and was arrested. (See footnote) Similarly a group of 40 known football risk supporters of Walsall FC were located inside a public house. Two of this group were arrested for breaching the terms of their football banning orders, three were arrested to prevent a breach of the peace (from their behaviour and demeanour, it was believed that they posed an imminent threat to public safety and public order) and the rest were served with again the Sec 27 direction to leave notices.

(The notices prevented them from going to the area by the stadium and the stadium itself).

Just before kick off, unfortunately a further 2 males were arrested for being drunk whilst attempting to enter the stadium, but the game passed off with no disorder or further arrests. Officers that had been deployed in Birmingham and Walsall Town Centre were moved to outside of the ground and the ‘iron horse’ crowd safety barrier was deployed half way along the Five Rivers Stand. The location of this was given specific thought by the Match Command Team, so that fans were separated, whilst allowing disabled supporters to exit the Five Rivers Stand in their usual way, without being inconvenienced. 

In addition to this some officers deployed around the stadium were positioned as a ‘filter cordon’ to allow controlled access to the coach park. Others supported British Transport Police at Bescot Station, both previous flashpoints for disorder. So whilst highly visible, the overwhelming majority of fans should have felt little impact of the police being there. 

No disorder occurred throughout the day and from the police point of view the operation was a success. There is of course the argument that nothing would have happened had the Police not being there, but we can only act upon previous knowledge. We realise that not all of our decisions are popular and some of you will not agree with the reasons why arrests were made or the use of Sec 27; however all decisions must be justified by the officer making that decision as being necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances. 

What is important is getting the balance correct between the 99% of fans who are attending a sporting event and the 1% who are intent on causing trouble. The result? No disorder for the first time in the recent history of the two clubs allowing supporters to enjoy the day…. 

Sec 27 dispersal notices are issued when an officer believes:

The presence of the individual in that locality is likely, in all the circumstances to cause or contribute to the occurrence of alcohol related crime and disorder, or a repetition of such.

This applies to persons over the age of 16yrs and requires them to leave the area as directed by the officer and prohibits them returning within a set period of time – not exceeding 48hrs

 

“Have you got nothing better to do…?!”

Traffic Bikes 1

Until last season WMP regularly deployed Traffic Motorcycles to ‘escort’ coaches away from home grounds at the end of every fixture. Dependant on the number of coaches we expected they may also ‘meet and greet’ them, either from an allocated motorway meeting point or more generally as they arrive in the area.

This season – as part of our drive to reduce policing at football, the automatic assumption that bikes would be used was removed and the ‘rule’ instead was that ‘if the intelligence supported the use of them’ (i.e. we anticipated lots of coaches) then we would consider it, but only in support of the Clubs own Traffic Management Plans, to ease congestion around the stadium. That decision prompted more discussion than any other change made this year… for example

  • How would we get the coaches parked up in time and away quickly?
  • Did we even need to worry how long it took the coaches to get away?
  • How would we ensure the coaches and people on them were safe? 

But crucially – how were we to manage the ‘risk’  of disorder that coaches full of fans, in almost stationary traffic, outside a football ground would pose. Surely any delay in moving vehicles would lead to an increase in coaches being targeted by that minority of fans intent on causing disruption? How would we answer to the public, if a person on the coach was injured? What would the clubs say?………..

This was clearly all going to lead to post match armageddon!!

By sheer co-incidence when researching something else I came across the case of Redmond – Bate v DPP 1999 where Police had arrested a group of 3 women Christian preachers for committing a Breach of The Peace, when the gathered crowd became angry and aggressive towards them. There was a bit more to it, but the Divisional Courts summing up can be summarised as this:

A key question for the constable was, from whom was the threat coming? And that in this case the officer’s attention should have been directed at the crowd, as the ‘threat’ to the peace was coming from them…

Generally I am not public order orientated, but this caught my attention as being completely relevant to the whole coach safety argument. Whilst the ‘disorder risk’ may not be present if the coaches were not there – the ACTUAL risk is infact coming from the very small minority of people outside of those vehicles who want to pick a fight.

So – more discussions later with the Public Order Tactical Advisors on the unit and then the Inspector and we were all starting to say the same thing – focus our tactics and officers on the ‘risk’ element and let everyone else manage themselves. Put simply, instead of worrying that the coaches may take a little longer to leave the area, worry about ensuring that that we know ‘who’ and ‘where’ that risk group are and place officers in the right place, with the right tactics and support to disrupt their behaviour. This quite obviously did not require traffic bikes at all!

Clearly its all about balance, but this example has led to an even greater focus as the season has developed, on directing the attention of the Match Commander towards protecting the majority by focussing ON the minority. We recognise that even in large numbers people will generally police themselves and we can manage big groups as long as we know where our minority are and understand correctly how they may behave. At bigger games small numbers of pro-active officers are now being placed alongside the Football Spotters to support them in managing and ultimately disrupting the behaviour of that minority and that is allowing us to keep Police numbers low, because as that old mantra says – “havent you got anything better to do?!”

Strati – The (Exciting) Football Prioritisation Matrix

Learning about graphsAs promised, this week it’s Part 2 of Policing Numbers at Football and the exciting subject of Strati – or its longer name Football Prioritisation Matrix. Simple to use but not so simple to explain!

Strati stands for Strategic Intelligence, which is put into a basic word document.  The document (Strati)  asks the officer completing it a series of questions, each with three or four drop down ‘answers’ to choose from. Each answer has an agreed points score, resulting in a final score. This in turn determines the ‘initial’ category of every fixture and is completed before the season starts. The Srati template is the same for every club, as is the scoring. So a score of 46 – 50 would be a Cat A at every club, be it Walsall or West Brom, whereas 91+ is our highest category (C-ir).

For those of you who read part 1 in this series you will be familiar with how police numbers increase as the Category goes up.

This information is shared with the clubs who run a similar system and the aim is for theirs and ours to match. This is important, as by agreeing categories and policing costs at the start of the season we and the clubs can forecast the budget. Although set early, Strati is continually assessed and amended – sometimes up until the day before a game. It is completed in its entirety by the Football Officers (constables) reviewed by myself and the Inspector. Senior Officers are then ‘informed’ of the match category. This ensures consistency, leaving little scope for an individual to influence policing numbers.

The matrix starts with the most basic questions – who is playing. Each club has its own score applied – between 1 and 20. This is based upon the fan behaviour during the previous season. As supporters you may think that this is pretty arbitrary, however this is not without several hours of debate and research into match reports and discussions with the clubs football officers across the country before agreement is made. This score considers the overall fan behaviour and not so much that of those very small groups, whose persistent behaviour is recognised further on in the document.

The headers are:

  • The day of the match,
  • KO time,
  • Type of match (cup/ league etc),
  • Anticipated total crowd / away attendance,
  • Transport issues.
  • ‘Recent incidents’ of both Home and Away fans,
  • Previous history of that fixture,
  • Other impact factors and match specific intelligence.

The first few headers are pretty straightforward, although they do change as the season develops, for example other games close by in the fixture list are ‘preferred’ by fans whilst others are seen as the big ‘away day’. The action of clubs can also impact e.g. ticket pricing or television agreements which change fixtures, (this season movement from Saturday afternoons to Friday nights in particular).

The previous history and recent incidents score is more contentious, as here the behaviour of a minority of fans has the potential to increase a match category. This section is not just about disorder, but could be the use of flares or smoke bombs, anti social behaviour or heavy drinking. This is probably the most reviewed and debated section of Strati within the Football Unit and is generally where the Inspector makes a final decision after discussion with the club. For this section it’s really important that we link in with our counterparts who know their supporters much better than we do, to inform and support our decision making. It’s also important that we don’t make assumptions and consistently cross check recent experiences:

For example at the end of last season WBA v QPR were involved in disorder resulting in convictions at court, but at games since its great to see both sets of fans drinking together. This has been taken into consideration at more recent games and has in part lowered police numbers at those fixtures.

The strength in Strati is that as far as is possible it stops officers (WMP) making independent decisions that are not supported – or sweeping statements to the detriment of policing and the clubs. It sets policing numbers, so ultimately budgets and it enables simple and transparent information sharing with the clubs. It should also offer reassurance to supporters that Policing numbers are not randomly set but accurately reflect the needs of each fixture.


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