Police officers who take the knee in solidarity with anti-racism protestors “should be cautious” about how it is interpreted as it is “rarely appropriate”, according to a report by independent inspectors.
It is one of a number of recommendations made by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) following an investigation into the conduct of police officers at protests.
They concluded that police need to strike a better balance between the rights of protestors and the rights of others, with the scales tipping “too readily” in favour of the former.
A “modest reset” and some changes to the law are required to help forces guard civil liberties while preventing “excessive disruption to daily life”, the report adds.
Other recommendations include:
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said in the report’s foreword: “Having reviewed the evidence, our conclusion is that the police do not strike the right balance on every occasion.
“The balance may tip too readily in favour of protesters when – as is often the case – the police do not accurately assess the level of disruption caused, or likely to be caused, by a protest.
“These and other observations led us to conclude that a modest reset of the scales is needed.”
“The right to gather and express our views is fundamental to our democracy. But this is not an absolute right.
“The police need to strike the correct balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of others, such as local residents and businesses.
“We found that the police too often do not find the balance between protecting the rights of the protesters and preventing excessive disruption to daily life, which even peaceful protest can sometimes cause.
“We concluded that, with some qualifications, changes to the law would improve police effectiveness, and that the legislation could be framed in a way that is compatible with human rights.
“There will remain a considerable public interest in ensuring that a fair balance is struck. We have made recommendations and identified areas for improvement which are designed to help the police get the balance right.”
On the issue of taking the knee – which became common practice by protestors at the Black Lives Matter demonstrates in 2020 – the report said: “We understand why police leaders may wish to demonstrate to their officers and staff from minority groups, and to the wider public, that they support principles of equality.
“However, they should be cautious about how they do this. The act of taking the knee has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement, and this is particularly so when it occurs at a Black Lives Matter protest.
“On balance, we believe that police leaders should think very carefully before they take any actions which may be interpreted as showing support for, or aversion towards, any protest or its stated aims; it will rarely be appropriate.”
However, the report added that it would be “unfair to criticise officers who take actions on the spur of the moment with the aim of, for instance, defusing tension at a protest”.
HMICFRS inspected 10 police forces with recent experience of policing demonstrations and consulted a range of other bodies, including protest groups and the general public, through a survey of 2,033 people.