Met Olympics briefing - they came to us
POLICING the Olympics, and how this affects journalists, was the subject of a briefing by Acting Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Chris Allison and Commander Bob Broadhurst. NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet introduced them.
Commander Broadhurst frequently acts as "Gold" (senior) commander for public order operations in London, and will be for the Olympic operation. Allison is "Gold for the whole lot". (They showed a schematic diagram of the Met command structure for the Olympics, which also included a "Bronze" commander for "Media.")
Your Press Card alone won't get you through the Olympic Park fence.
The briefing, on 11 April, was organised by NUJ London Freelance Branch and the NUJ Freelance Office, and was the result of the Met contacting the NUJ asking to come to brief journalists. This is a testament to the effectiveness of years of work by Freelance Officer John Toner has put in towards ensuring better treatment of journalist who encounter the police in the course of their work.
The Assistant Commissioner said the Olympics is the Met's "biggest-ever policing operation", and the longest, lasting 68 days from start to finish. Olympic test events went ahead during August's riots, uninterrupted: the simulated beach volleyball started only an hour late.
Your name's not on the list, you're not coming in
Both officers emphasised, that just because you've got a Press Card, that doesn't mean you can get into the sporting events. For that you need got accreditation for them from LOCOG or another Olympic body. The Commander reminded journalists that the Met "are not running this event". Access to the events themselves is "Locog's gig": you can't get into the Olympic Park or through the fence all the way round it unless you have accreditation as well as a Press Card. And Broadhurst warned that when it comes to "breaching venue security, the Press do not have immunity from prosecution." (For the scandal of Olympic accreditation see here.)
The police will be in considerable force outside the Olympic venues, but, as with football matches currently, there will be "very minimal policing presence inside... mostly LOCOG do security" including bag searches.
Freelance photographer David Hoffman asked about "private security operatives making up the law as they go along," and was told that LOCOG security (G4S) are "getting training, to which the Met contributed, " which includes "dealing with media. " (But see here for what happened when five photographers tried to take pictures just outside the Olympic perimeter soon afterwards.)
NUJ London Photographers Branch chair Jess Hurd asked if Olympic security would be "given any extra powers." Chris Allison said they have no extra powers under the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (the special law for the Olympics) but "security, G4S plus military, volunteers... they have the same powers as anybody when you go onto private property.".
For the vast majority of journalists unable to access Olympic venues, there's still plenty to cover. The progress of the Olympic torch will end with "Olympic celebrations almost every night," attended by 5000 to 20,000 people, with post-torch parties on open spaces in the immediate run-up to the Games as it passes through the various London boroughs. There is also what the Assistant Commissioner described as "the small issue of Notting Hill carnival in the middle of it". (Expect intensive policing of these "parallel events": the Met see these as a potential terrorism "soft-target" compared to the much harder-to-enter sporting events.)
Police and journalists, reporting in the streets
What sort of encounters can journalists expect with the cops around the Games? Broadhurst listed the "roles" of the police during the Olympics as to "prevent crime; keep the peace; respond to incidents. " He assured his audience that "we are not editors" and that he would brief his officers not to hassle the "40,000 non-accredited media reporting on London" expected during the Games.
There will be an expected 10,000 Met officers on the streets of London during the Games, with the Met relying on "mutual aid" in the form of between "two an three thousand" officers from other police forces, including "colleagues from out of London, unused to the urban environment," of whom Broadhurst said "we remind them" about the Press Card.
Broadhurst anticipates a risk that "officers slip below the standard we expect of them" during such long deployments. It may prove hard to keep these out-of-town officers "motivated for so long, especially when they realise they can't go into the (Olympic) venue" and they're stuck with "policing Hackney, in the glare of publicity." Officers would, he assured, be continually reminded of such "reputational issues".
Official protesters of the London Olympics
What sort of policing can those who report on the protest beat expect? The third of four headings in the Met's Olympic threat assessment is "public protest and domestic extremist". In the Met's thinking, "people" could "use the Games as a platform for protest", for which they'd have a "four billion audience." Said Broadhurst, "anything can happen anywhere in the world and there will be a protest within 10 minutes in London."
Chris Allison didn't sound too bothered by the Occupy protest then going on in Leyton Marshes, which he described as a protest not about the Olympics but about one specific Olympics venue.
There has been an Olympic Intelligence Centre in place for two years now, which Allison said is there to "pull together stuff from other intelligence agencies" and "will get bigger. " He told me that this Centre wouldn't gather its own intelligence or have its own database with data on individual protesters, and would wind down once the Games had left town.
Other information at the briefing included the Met's operations against ticket touts and online Olympic ticket scam artists. There are extra powers for use against touts under the "Olympic Act" - for "unauthorised sales, we will arrest, we already are, " and the Act has raised maximum fines for touts from £5000 to £20,000. The Assistant Commissioner says the Met hasn't found as many "false websites as we expected there to be" offering Olympic tickets, and they are taking down those they find. "If you have found a final ticket for the men's 100 meters plus hospitality suite for around £56, you are being had, " advises Allison.
- Watch the Freelance website nearer the time for alerts of police helpline numbers for journalists encountering any difficulties with policing around Olympic events.