Surviving public order situations

IssueSeptember - November 2004
Feature by Manchester Earth First!

Bear in mind that the police are probably much better equipped and trained for close combat than you or we. They have been psyching themselves up for hours, are likely to have plenty of reserves standing by, and usually feel confident with the law behind them. Beating the police is about outwitting them, not necessarily hitting them over the head.

In Britain the Public Order Manual of Tactical Operations and Related Matters provides the police with clear instructions for dealing with situations where public order is threatened. This manual hasn ever been made public, has no legal standing and was never discussed by Parliament. It basically gives the police guidance in the use of pre-emptive acts of violence, to achieve the following:

  • To break the crowd up into manage-able portions, keep them moving then eventually disperse them.
  • To provoke violence as a way of justifying their actions and flushing out any ringleaders.
  • To contain the crowd and stop the trouble spreading.
  • To intimidate and break the spirit of the crowd.
  • To gather evidence for later.

The manual contains details of tactics which include the use of snatch squads, baton charges and the use of horses to disperse and intimidate large crowds. Make no mistake — the cops will be prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that our actions and protests are ineffective.

Ensuring our actions are effective

Don't be tempted to stand around and fight — get to where you can cause disruption without the police around.

  • Keep moving, as a group and individually. Fill gaps. Never stand still — chaos puts the police off.
  • Nip police attempts to form lines or divide the crowd in the bud.
  • Don't be intimidated.
  • Do everything in small teams, prepare in advance.
  • Think defensively. Protect each other and escape routes.
  • Always face outwards, ie away from us and towards them.
  • Link arms as often as possible, form barriers, use your body.
  • Move quickly and calmly, never giving the police time to react.



Staying out of jail and hospital need not be hard work. Most people caught up in riots manage it. But with a bit of forethought you can turn surviving a public order situation into a living order situation!


No one really “wins” at the end of the day, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you are unhurt, still free and some egg is still stuck to the face of your original target after the police have been and gone.

With all that in mind, we suggest you stick to these three basic aims if you findy ourself in a riot: l Get you and your mates away safely,rather than fighting. l Find a place to cause embarrassment and economic damage to your real target, rather than fighting. l Help others in trouble by administering first aid and de-arresting, rather than fighting.

Police choreography

With any crowd the police will be looking to break it up as soon as possible. Crowd dispersal is achieved with baton charges, horse charges and sometimes CS gas and vehicles. Some particularly nasty or out-of-control units may pile straight into the crowd, but there is usually a gap between the time they arrive and the start of the dispersal. This stalling time is often just dithering by the commanding officer, or psyching/tooling up time for the troops (the latter is easy to spot). This aside, there are three more reasons why they aren't wading straight in, see if you can spot them next time you're waiting for “kick-off”:

  • They haven't worked out where they're going to disperse you to.
  • They want to gather more evidence or flush out more ring-leaders. This involves keeping you right where they can see you and provoking you like hell. They will film you and photograph you and send out snatch squads to pick off individuals.
  • They are waiting for back up because you outnumber them or are in danger of gaining the upper hand.


The dance steps

OK, so they've stopped fucking around and now it's time to send you home, with a great story to tell your friends (let's face it, they won't see the truth on the news).The bulk of the action is shocking in its predictability. The following will be repeated over and over, in different combinations, until they win or get bored:

  • Officers in lines will pen you in (preferably on the pavement).
  • Officers in lines will push into a crowd to divide it in half.
  • Batons/horses/CS spray attack penned in crowds to lower morale.
  • Charges that slowly push you down a street (rush of cops> fall back> strengthen line> repeat).
  • Crowds throwing missiles will be “put to flight”, as it's harder to throw stuff if you are running.
  • Shift changes. (Often look for the arrival of reinforcements. It is important to try and spot the difference for reasons of morale, and that they are vulnerable during shift changes.)

Most of the above require the individual officers to be in tight lines, so it's important to stop those lines forming. Unfortunately we are quite bad at this. The first line drawn is the most crucial and most people don't see it coming. The police will try and form lines right in amongst you if they can, thus weakening your position at the same time as strengthening theirs. Line dancing If the crowd seems volatile, the police will hold right back and the first line drawn will be some distance away. But if you are all hanging around looking con-fused and passive they will sneak right in amongst you and the first lines will be dividing lines. This is how it works: The first divide the crowd up into”actors” and “viewers”. Small groups of officers will move into the crowd and start politely encouraging the timid ones onto the pavement. Once the crowd starts moving the way they want, those little groups of cops will get bigger and start joining up. Before you know it, there are two crowds on two pavements with two lines of cops penning them in. Let the head cracking commence. Or...

  • Don't stand and watch them.
  • Don't look like you'll let them get anywhere near you.
  • Spot gaps in the crowd and fill them.
  • Work out which space they want to take and get there with your mates first.
  • Get long tarpaulin banners to the front to stop them advancing and filming.
  • Protect your escape routes by standing in them.
  • Get those who have turned into spectators off the pavements, back in the crowd and moving around.

Of course, now having resisted being split up and penned in, they may just let fly with the baton charge. But at least you're now in a stronger position to deal with it and escape. Whatever happens next, don't just stand there waiting for it. If you've managed to get their line drawn far away, you've bought valuable time and space — so use it! Even if their line is right up against you, they still haven't broken down your numbers.

However, it's only a matter of time before the police try to get closer/break you up again. Use the time to get out of there slowly and in one block, this is the last thing they want — a large mob moving around freely. Whatever you do,don't stand there waiting for them to try again. You are now in control to go and do whatever you want, so do it. If they have blocked your only exit, try...

Counter advancing

This involves moving your lines forward into theirs, thus gaining more space and opening up more exits. Use the front line as a solid wall, linking arms and moving slowly forward. Use the long banner like a snowplough (this stops them grabbing you or breaking the line; they can still hit you with truncheons though). If there's enough of you “WOMBLED up”, your protective clothing will make that get-away that much safer and easier.

Snow plough

A line of crowd-control barriers can also be carried by the front line like a snow-plough to break into the police ranks. The front of the “plough” can then be opened once their line is breached and the barriers pushed to the side to contain the cops. This all needs a lot of co-ordination and balls; the advantage gained will not last long, so push all your ranks forward through the gap straight away. Using your body Your body is your best and most adaptable tool. It is best used in concert with others. For instance it could take a long time for twenty to scale a wall, but stand two people against the wall, bowed together with their arms locked and you've got a set of human steps! (Those waiting to climb can link arms around the steps to protect them.) Always look for ways to use your body to escape.


Keep looking for ways of increasing your numbers, by joining up with other groups and absorbing stragglers. Everyone has to get out and you'll stand a better chance of getting out unharmed, with all your belongings and equipment, if you leave together at the same time.


If you aren't doing anything else you should always be defending.

Whether that means securing a building, strengthening your position on the street, barricading or protecting others.

Topics: Police