Coercion and accommodation: Policing public order after the Public Order Act

Waddington, P. A. J.

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Waddington, P. A. J. (1994). Coercion and accommodation: Policing public order after the Public Order Act. The British Journal of Sociology, 45(3), 367–385.

The policing of the anti-poll tax campaign allows an insight into how protest is incorporated. Protestors were both accommodated and coerced as police sought to balance various threats of 'trouble.' Concessions and overt assistance were offered as a means of 'winning over' the protest organizers, whilst legal conditions were imposed to ensure that any threat of disorder was contained. This analysis suggests that notions of an ubridled shift towards a more confrontational style of policing in the wake of the Public Order Act are unfounded. It illustrates the relationship between institutional and interactional social processes, for institutional considerations limit the police's room for manoeuvre, whilst low-level decisions by police officers themselves have implications for those institutions.

Main finding
The author found that during two political marches, police relied on accommodation and coercion strategies. In the aftermath of the Trafalgar Square Riot, and in the absence of a protest ban, the police were motivated primarily by their goal of avoiding trouble and conflict, which includes both physical danger and the political ramifications of mishandling the marches. Their strategies required a balance of compromise with protest organizers to plan each march, and tactical preparation for the procession to maintain order and minimize confrontation, although no conflict occurred.

Description of method used in the article
This article is based on an observational study of protest and procession policing tactics, conducted from 1990 to 1992. The author observed the planning, briefing, and commanding of police operations.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Field Observations
Physical types
Parks/Gardens Streets
Geographic locations