His Excellency the Governor has released the report on the police action at the House of Assembly on Friday, December 2, 2016. The report was prepared by Assistant Chief Constable Christopher Shead who is attached to the National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC) in London. The report (see attached) contains an independent assessment made by an experienced public order practitioner of the planning, command, and tactics used by the police along with ten recommendations to be considered.
"The report establishes that the BPS adopted an overarching strategy to deal with the protests on December 2, in a manner that sought to facilitate peaceful protest, protect the rights of others not involved in the protests, to prevent harm to people, and to prevent damage to property," said Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva during a press conference.
"From the outset, police advised protestors blocking the gates that they were committing offences and encouraged them to stop, continually reminding protestors and organizers that their actions must be lawful and they must not intrude on the rights of others. A designated liaison officer further attempted to negotiate an end to the protest with organisers and leaders.
"The report also acknowledges the BPS was faced with a set of circumstances that it was not experienced or adequately trained to deal with. The officers involved on the day showed resilience and they were fully committed to achieving a successful outcome according to the plan, but ultimately the BPS was not tactically prepared for the scale and nature of the protest. The officers encountered some protestors that were clearly intent on causing disruption, and the police may have over-relied on their experience with previously compliant protests at the House of Assembly. Consequently, the BPS was not able to achieve some of the plan's strategic intentions.
"The police were left to consider three options:
1. Do nothing, abandon the House of Assembly debate, and take no further action.
2. Use a "bubble tactic" to get through the crowd and gain access to the House, or
3. Utilise the Police Support Unit (PSU) with full protective equipment and shields.
"The use of full shield tactics was quickly recognised as a disproportionate response to the level of criminal behaviour and this option was not selected. The "do nothing" option was deemed to be inappropriate given the three previous experiences at the House of Assembly where protestors obstructed successive sittings. The "bubble tactic" therefore emerged as a reasonable alternative to achieve the strategic intent of gaining access to the House of Assembly.
"This tactic, however, was not effective given the numbers of protestors, their non-compliant posture, and the limited number of BPS resources. The protestors' response became more aggressive and some actively resisted, prompting some officers to deploy incapacitant spray where they felt threatened by
the actions of individual protestors. This led to a further deterioration in police and protestor relations at the scene. As there were no contingency plans in place, the police withdrew from the confrontation and the House of Assembly session was cancelled.
"The key findings of the report are as follows:
"1. Planning should have commenced earlier and it should have included a detailed threat
assessment that enabled commanders to plan effectively and generate appropriate and
proportionate tactical plans and contingencies.
"2. Appropriate protestor and stakeholder engagement strategies need to be adopted by the BPS
for all issues that may potentially result in protest.
"3. The ability of the BPS to exert effective command in potentially confrontational public order
operations is limited by a lack of exposure to this type of event and the availability of
appropriate command training.
"The ten recommendations can be summarized as follows:
"1. Planning & Record Keeping: Establish an appropriate planning process for all public order events that includes strategies, command structures, and appropriate contingency plans. This includes a review of the use of threat and risk assessments to assist with planning for public order and public safety events. It also includes establishing clear guidance regarding record keeping and policy logs that are to be maintained throughout the planning and implementation of public order operations and provide an audit process.
"2. Command, Training, & Tactics: Establish the number of public order commanders required for the BPS to maintain command resilience, and deliver public order command training to those officers who are likely to be placed in command positions. This includes delivering appropriate tactical training to the PSU and other appropriate personnel. It also includes investing in protest liaison training and ensure a "no surprises" communication strategy is adopted for future public order events.
"3. Legislation: Consider lobbying for additional appropriate legislation to assist in the management of protest and to fill existing legislative gaps.
"Over time, the absence of public order incidents combined with the significant rise in gun and gang crime has meant that the BPS focused its limited training resources towards firearms command, forensic capabilities, and the investigation of serious crimes. This created a gap in our public order training that
we clearly recognise and are moving swiftly to close.
"I welcome the findings of this report and I accept each of its recommendations, all of which are in progress. We adopted a "no surprises" approach on February 3 and 10, and shared our plans in advance for policing the House of Assembly sessions. Public Order training for commanders, PSU, and liaison officers will be held in Bermuda between April 3 and 13. We are updating our public order policy to standardise the planning process and provide record keeping guidelines. We will also make recommendations to the Minister of National Security to consider legislative amendments that are in line with modern public order considerations. Finally, I invite further discussion of this report with relevant political, labour and organisational leaders so that we can better manage protests in Bermuda to ensure they are both peaceful and lawful in nature."