In the wake of the death of Ian Tomlinson at the London G20 protests in 2009, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary proposed a number of reforms aimed at making public order policing strategies more ‘human-rights compliant’. One of the most significant developments has been the introduction of Protest Liaison Officers whose role is to build links between police and protesters through the establishment of dialogue and relationships based on trust. These developments have led to a burgeoning scholarship in public order policing in recent years. Whilst some studies have documented the development of ‘dialogue policing’ strategies, none have yet captured the complex interplay between these practices and the more overt forms of coercion and control experienced by protesters. In this paper, we begin to fill this lacuna. Drawing on unique data on the experiences of anti-fracking protesters – a hard to reach group whose narrative has not been presented in the academic literature to date – we contrast official accounts with the material conditions faced by protesters. Focusing on protesters’ experiences of both dialogue policing and mass arrest, we find little evidence of the progressive ‘shift’ reflected in official public order policing discourses. Rather, we argue that dialogue policing can have a legitimising function, enabling the police to define protest groups as irrational and ‘uncooperative’ and therefore ripe for violent policing.
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- public order policing