This page is from APP, the official source of professional practice for policing.
See also the guidance on public order tactical options and communication.
This explains the nature of disorder, and may assist in managing policing operations, events and incidents where there is a risk of disorder or a potential for disorder to occur or further escalate. Tension or disorder may be present in every community and social grouping. Its management should be regarded as a continuous partnership process rather than one of crisis intervention involving the police as a single enforcement agency.
State of normality
The day-to-day state of order and policing services provided within a community. This can vary widely from one area to another and even by time of day. Effective information and intelligence management provides accurate information as to the current state. It should be recognised that communities are complex in nature and may be permanent or transient.
This manifests as a level of increased concern or feelings within a community, group or crowd. A trigger incident may result in movement from a state of heightening tension to disorder. Such incidents can be caused by the police, the community or a third party.
This represents the stage at which mood is supplemented by action, whether isolated or sustained. It manifests itself in disruption, damage or violence. Such disorder may occur following a single trigger incident or a series of incidents that have a cumulative effect. At this level, unchecked or uncontrolled activity (including ineffective or incorrect police response) may deteriorate into serious disorder.
An escalation into widespread violent behaviour. This may take the form of violent protest, rioting, criminal damage, looting, and may include the use of weapons.
This is the period, sometimes prolonged, when the rebuilding of relationships takes place. Sensitivity and trust are key factors in this process. Police and partners should focus on a structured return to a state of normality, and should be aware that it is possible to cause a return to disorder/serious disorder through excessive or inappropriate action.
Progression through all stages is not necessary. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to return to the state of normality from any level. The stages from state of normality through to serious disorder/riot can be viewed in terms of an escalation in tension and conflict. A return to the state of normality from any stage can be viewed as a de-escalation.
The police, in conjunction with partners, have a key role in contributing to:
- building and keeping the peace in the community
- restoring peace through local negotiation and appropriate interventions in order to minimise the effects of criminal activity and local tensions or conflict
Holding early neighbourhood level partnership interventions designed to mitigate the risk of escalation into disorder/serious disorder during the tension and unrest stages can help to achieve this. For example:
- using community impact assessments to assess community tensions and build community information and intelligence
- developing a communication/engagement plan incorporating key messages
- deploying and tasking local resources (for example, neighbourhood policing teams and response officers)
It may be prudent to prepare and test contingencies to ensure that the force is capable of dealing with any disorder should it occur. These contingencies should include the capability to provide a rapid surge in the level of any police response and the development of a systematic and structured approach to community engagement through neighbourhood policing teams. If disorder occurs, the objective of any police response should be to secure an early resolution. However, the response needs to be sophisticated and sensitive enough to reduce the likelihood of further escalation.
Used in conjunction with the national decision model (NDM) the disorder model may also assist in the threat assessment process and the recording of decisions made and their supporting rationale.
Disorder model considerations
- The desired outcome should be the return to a state of normality (which may differ before and after an incident of disorder/serious disorder).
- The police and community, group or crowd may have different perceptions of the level of tension/conflict/disorder. Effective community liaison may assist in reducing any disparity.
- Information and intelligence to identify potential or existing conflicts/tensions within communities, groups or crowds can facilitate appropriate interventions.
- Rumours/misinformation relating to a dispute/disorder may circulate. These may include comments on the actions/responses of the police and should be corrected as quickly as possible. Prior investment in building relationships and liaising with communities, together with an effective engagement strategy which uses social media are key factors in being able to dispel such rumours.
- During periods of disorder, normal policing services (both to the affected community and the wider policing area) should be maintained wherever possible.
- Force used must be the minimum required to achieve the lawful objective. Any police use of force could be perceived as unnecessary and may result in escalation. Planning to reduce the need for force is, therefore, advisable.
- Active partnership working involving the police, community and other agencies can help prevent disorder and reduce tension.
- A trigger incident is any incident, however minor, that leads to an escalation in the level of tension/disorder. Commanders should make professional judgements based on information and experience, and not just rely on formally assessed intelligence.
- Commanders can use the different stages of the model to decide on their selection of relevant tactical options.
Public order and the national decision model
The NDM is used throughout the police service. The NDM is a scalable model that can be used before, during and after any public order operation. It provides commanders, officers, planners and advisers with a structured framework for rationalising and recording the decision-making process and managing a reasonable and proportionate police response. See the model for core information on the NDM.
Gather information and intelligence
Information and intelligence can be gathered from many sources, for example:
- force-wide strategic threat and risk assessment
- community impact assessments and tension reports
- event organisers/protest groups
- covert sources
- open sources, for example, press and social media
- intelligence reports
At times it is necessary for the police to act on a degree of assumption, based on the information and intelligence already known. It is essential that any information or intelligence used is current, relevant and accurate. New information and intelligence should be taken into account, and police actions reviewed accordingly.
From the outset of an operation or event, information and intelligence needs to be managed effectively. The initial management of information and intelligence may only require a dedicated individual or small team with the appropriate training and experience. In protracted or more complex incidents, however, a dedicated intelligence function may be needed. See Principles of intelligence for public order. A range of resources from neighbourhood policing teams, forward intelligence teams (FITs) and staff monitoring social media channels provides an opportunity for gathering information and intelligence across the footprint of an incident or event. This is then used in command decision making.
For further information see the authorised professional practice (APP) on:
Force-wide strategic threat and risk assessment
Every police force has undertaken a strategic threat and risk assessment (STRA), based on intelligence management principles, in order to support tasking and coordinating processes and to ensure that operations are not conducted in isolation.
STRAs provide a link between relevant regional and/or national assessments, and the local threats and operational planning for basic command units (BCUs). It is important that BCU commanders are involved in their force's STRA process.
There is a distinction between a force’s wider STRA and the threat assessment applicable to public order policing which relates to a single police operation or spontaneous incident.
Assess threat and risk and develop a working strategy
Threat may be summarised as the source of actual or potential harm (that is, anything that can cause harm).
Risk refers to the possibility of harm occurring, and has been widely accepted as the measurement of both the likelihood and the impact of an event which could cause harm.
A threat assessment clarifies what is known, likely threats/risks, and the police responsibility for mitigation. In this context threat assessment refers to the considerations associated with policing public order, rather than health and safety risks. The focus when assessing threat should be on information gathering and collation, together with the analysis of threats and risks. Intelligence structures should be activated and actions taken to resolve intelligence gaps. Threat assessment highlights prioritised risks.
Threat assessment is based on fact, information and intelligence and, ultimately, forms the basis on which the proportionality of the police response will be judged. Commanders should consider a number of factors when undertaking a threat assessment. Threat assessment is as effective as the information and intelligence it is based on. Commanders should, therefore, play an active role in ensuring that the threat assessment process is dynamic and based on relevant information and intelligence. The capability and capacity of officers analysing and interpreting the threat assessment also affects its quality.
Threat assessment has an impact on the development of a working strategy.
Undertaking a threat assessment
Considerations include the following.
- Information and intelligence known at the time and whether it is recognised to be fact or assumption.
- The source of the threat and the intent/objective.
- The type of threat (for example, threat to life, weapons, violence, damage, disruption, fear, disturbance).
- The capability of the threat, and timescale.
- The impact and consequences of the realised threat.
- The individuals, groups or communities that would be affected by the threat.
- Professional judgement based on available information and experience.
- The resources required to respond to the threat.
Two examples of threat assessment are:
- PESTELEOS (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal, ethical, organisational, safety)
- ICII (identify, capability, intent, immediacy)
Regardless of the method used, officers are expected to exercise professional judgement based on the circumstances they are presented with at the time.
This can be developed once information and intelligence is received, and then formalised once a threat assessment has taken place. It is unlikely that the gold commander will be the person initially responsible for setting strategy when a spontaneous incident occurs. This will be undertaken by the initial commander using the information and intelligence available at that time. Once established, the dedicated gold commander will assess and review the working strategy and take responsibility for it. The gold commander will then further develop the working strategy into a formal strategy (for example, with a more detailed rationale which takes into account emerging information).
Consider powers and policies
Commanders should consider the powers and policies available to help resolve an incident, thereby ensuring a proportionate police response. Selecting the appropriate powers and policies, and documenting an audit trail helps provide evidence of a proportionate response.
In defining strategic objectives, powers and policy, considerations should include:
- police duties and other statutory/common law obligations
- human rights obligations
- legal basis for police action
- relevant Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) or force policy, or applicable code(s) of practice
- police use of force implications
- whether the operation involves surveillance and if so what level of authority is required under legislation or force policy. See Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
As long as there is a good rationale for doing so, it may be reasonable to act outside policy.
All police officers have an individual responsibility for ensuring that they are properly informed about the extent of their legal powers and the context within which those powers can be exercised. In particular, commanders should be fully conversant with the Human Rights Act 1998, and should consider seeking the advice of a legal adviser or public order tactical adviser as part of the decision-making process.
Identify options and contingencies
Once a strategy has been set, the identification and consideration of tactical options help to develop a tactical plan that contains the most suitable option(s) to deliver the strategy. The tactical options will be detailed in the tactical plan, correspond with the tactical parameters and be underpinned by appropriate command protocols.
Contingencies are the ‘what ifs’ of a tactical plan and should be considered in the same manner as any other police actions. The nature of policing makes it impractical to identify every possible outcome of a given situation. Commanders should, however, identify a range of reasonably foreseeable scenarios and plan to minimise their impact on the policing operation.
Commanders should ensure that officers are clear on the actions they are required to carry out, the legal basis for each action, the tactical objective they are to accomplish, and any relevant tactical parameters. This should include clear communication of policing style and how this may be escalated or de-escalated in response to the circumstances (see policing style considerations). Effective and consistent briefing, debriefing processes and public order command protocols are crucial to the success of a police response.
Take action and review what happened
Once the tactical plan and any operational parameters are in place, the bronze commander will develop a deployment plan. Implementing the tactical plan involves choosing actions and contingencies that are reasonable and proportionate to the circumstances, and assigning those actions to the relevant police support units (PSU) and other police resources.
Reviewing the effect of the action taken is a distinct and crucial part of this stage of the NDM. This review could include such things as whether the identified threats have been reduced or eliminated and whether the action taken achieved all or any of the objectives of the working strategy/formal strategy. The result of the action taken is new information which may necessitate a further application of the model.
Principles of intelligence
When managing any public order or public safety deployment, information management and intelligence management are an integral part of the process. Links into BCU and force level intelligence structures provide important contextual information and intelligence (for example, community tensions or reaction to a trigger incident) which, if managed effectively, can help mitigate the threat of disorder.
Regardless of the scale or type of event or incident, information and intelligence assist with keeping the peace and preventing crime. The development of relevant intelligence products helps to define strategic priorities and tactical options/responses during public order policing operations.
Information and intelligence is required throughout the lifecycle of an event or incident, for example:
- pre-event (pre-planned), initial response (spontaneous) or to assess rising community tensions
- during the event/incident
Also known as bronze intelligence, the role includes:
- managing and coordinating the collection, analysis and dissemination of information and intelligence products in line with the intelligence requirement for the operation
- establishing and managing a dedicated intelligence cell, if required
- liaising with the National Police Coordination Centre, Strategic Intelligence and Briefing unit (NPoCC SIB), if required
- responsibility for producing and disseminating appropriate briefing products, for example, for gold/silver commanders to assist with strategy/tactical plan development
- acting as the intelligence adviser to the silver commander during the operational phase of an event or incident
- during protracted or large-scale operations, ensuring that that the silver commander has access to a co-located ‘intelligence pod’ if the main intelligence cell is located away from the silver command structure
- ensuring protocols exist for the communication of relevant information and intelligence products to assist any post-incident investigation
- ensuring briefing/debriefing arrangements are in place (for example, appropriate briefing staff, appropriate briefing locations)
- if applicable, contributing to the strategic debrief and ensuring that it is disseminated to relevant parties
Depending on the scale and nature of the operation, it may be necessary to appoint a BCU or force level intelligence manager to perform the intelligence coordinator role.
Events and incidents which present a risk to public safety or have a potential for serious disorder may present unique challenges to the management and investigation of crime. These include the:
- potential scale of investigations
- diversity of offences
- difficulties of scene management
- resource implications
- likelihood of high-profile court proceedings
- witness/victim/suspect management
- significant media coverage
For further information see the APP on Investigation.
Investigating officer/senior investigating officer (bronze crime)
Consideration should be given to the appointment of an investigating officer (IO) or senior investigating officer (SIO) at an early stage in the planning process. The choice of an IO or SIO will be dictated by the anticipated or actual investigative requirements of an operation, ie, which professionalising investigation programme (PIP) level is required. This individual will perform a bronze crime role during an operation and is responsible for developing a tactical investigation plan which supports the gold strategy and silver’s tactical plan. The investigation plan may include:
- resources, including the role of the IO/SIO in the command structure, for example, functional bronze
- links to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and prosecution policy
- crime media policy
- authority levels
- working protocols with the intelligence coordinator (bronze intelligence)
- methods for evidence collection, for example, officers’ notes, evidence gathering teams, CCTV
- briefing material/methods for key staff
- contingencies to deal with crime scene management
- intervention plans
- custody arrangements
- detainee transport
- charging policy
- crime scene management in hostile environments
- consideration for the use of forensic recovery teams
The preservation of any crime scene must be balanced with the needs of the ongoing police operation as dictated by the silver commander. The IO/SIO advises the silver commander on the need to preserve a scene. The silver commander advises on the feasibility of preserving that scene with current resources following consultation with the relevant bronze public order commander. The decision must be recorded for the audit trail.
Working with partners
The organiser(s) of an event have overall responsibility for its management, including the responsibility for public safety. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (1999) The Event Safety Guide: A Guide to Health, Safety and Welfare at Music and Similar Events provides guidance for event organisers.
The relevant police force determines whether there is a need for a police presence at an event.
The police service is often viewed as the first point of reference for those who organise public events, the assumption being that the police can authorise or ban them. This is not the case, and a safety advisory group should act as the first point of reference for all those who are intending to organise a public event, whether it be on or off the highway.
For further information see Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) Joint Doctrine.
Partner agencies should be involved in the planning and resolution of operations and incidents as appropriate. Protocols should be clearly defined and agreed between the gold commander and counterpart roles within all partner agencies. This ensures that each agency understands its role and responsibilities in the operation, and supports an effective line of communication between agencies.
Multi-agency protocols should clarify:
- who is in command, when and where?
- what jurisdiction does each of the agencies involved have in the planning or response to the incident?
- what procedures are the agencies involved working to?
- whether there are any specific procedures that need to be considered
- what capability the partner agencies have in responding to the incident?
- what specific powers partner agencies have that can help to resolve the incident as quickly as possible and bring a return to a state of normality?
Safety advisory group
The safety advisory group (SAG) provides advice and guidance on specific areas of responsibility for organisers and other agencies involved in organising a public event.
The SAG should be chaired by the local authority and include senior representation from the fire and rescue service, the ambulance service, the highways authority, the police service and any other relevant organisation.
There is no legal requirement for organisers to refer events to the SAG, nor to comply with its advice and guidance. It is, however, good practice for organisers to liaise with the SAG, or to provide a documented, rationalised justification for not complying with the advice it offers. A template can be used to communicate with event organisers who have not engaged with the SAG.
While the SAG may express its view on whether the police should attend an event, ultimately it is the responsibility of the relevant force to determine whether a police presence is appropriate and necessary. Events, particularly those of a commercial nature, should not require police attendance. The police may, however, be involved in the scrutiny of the planning as part of the SAG process.
Note: Details for SAG arrangements in Northern Ireland can be found at Appendix J to Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Service Procedure 15/2007 Policing of Football Matches/Sporting Events.
Police event safety considerations
The requirement for police attendance and action at an event is based on the need for the police service to discharge its core responsibilities:
- preventing and detecting crime
- preventing or stopping a breach of the peace
- traffic regulation (only under statutory powers relating to events)
- activating contingency plans when there is an immediate threat to life
- coordinating emergency response activities associated with a major incident taking place at the event
In certain circumstances, action by the police may be appropriate when a pre-planned event is considered to be unsafe or could potentially result in significant disorder. Such action could be (but is not limited to):
- a letter to the organisers advising of the potential danger and their liabilities
- use of the Public Order Act 1986 s 13 to prohibit public processions (this does not apply in Northern Ireland, see banning a public procession)
- application for injunction
The Licensing Act 2003 allows the police to make objections about a temporary event notice. These must be relevant to how the notice will undermine a relevant licensing objective.