The chief constable leading the national police response to the Israel/Hamas war has warned police will come after anyone intent on criminality.
Events playing out overseas have already had a significant impact on communities here in the UK, and concern will increase from all sides in the coming weeks, particularly as the Israeli military response continues.
We have previously seen how escalated tension in the same region (notably in 2014 and 2021) can impact on the UK domestically. A national policing response to the current conflict was quickly established by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), with support from the National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC), as soon as the severity of the initial attacks by Hamas became clear. This work links with, and functions alongside, established Counter Terrorism Policing structures, which continue to lead on protective security.
The aim of NPCC and partners is to:
ensure that national structures are in place to support the policing response.
coordinate daily reporting on community tension and protest.
manage the policing approaches to public order incidents.
engage with our communities proactively.
A recent data return from forces (encapsulating the period from 2 November – 5 November) reveals:
67 protests occurred nationwide, requiring 622 officers to police.
These incidents led to eight protested-related arrests, across three forces.
Early estimates as to the policing cost of these events would suggest they amount to £140,346 for the reporting period, however and to note, not all forces have yet been able to provide a figure in the reporting period. The true cost is likely to be higher.
This does not include the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) or the events in London over the past weekend.
A huge amount of engagement and operational activity is already underway and having a clear and positive impact on our communities.
During the above reporting period, forces undertook:
34 synagogues visits.
39 mosque visits.
Total Jewish community engagement – 48 contacts.
Total Islamic community engagements – 58 contacts.
In the four weeks since the beginning of the conflict, forces have made hundreds of visits to places of worship, schools, universities and community groups to listen to concerns.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Gold Lead Chief Constable Chris Haward said:
“Most protest activity has taken place peacefully and without issue. Where there have been outbreaks of disorder, these have been by smaller groups and have been addressed swiftly by our officers. Where chanting oversteps the line between freedom of expression and criminality we will continue to uphold the law within the strict legal framework that exists.
“As emotive as this situation can be, let me be clear that there is absolutely no excuse for anybody to use it to engage in criminality. Hate crime will not be tolerated. Committing offences during protests will not be tolerated. We have made arrests and are well prepared to continue to do so. When we are alerted to crimes, particularly those which are inflammatory and fuelled by hate, we will take action either making the arrests at the time or conducting thorough investigations afterwards to bring offenders to justice.
“There is no doubt that as events abroad develop, we may see an escalation in tensions within our communities across our regions and forces. We have recorded spikes in hate crime, and seen a significant number of protests which have led to an increase in fear and anxiety in many communities.
“We join others across the world in condemning the terrorist attacks of Hamas. We remain mindful that there is a very real and tragic humanitarian crisis taking place. Our thoughts remain with all involved.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Public Order, Chief Constable BJ Harrington said:
“We understand that people want to make their voices heard and the right to lawful protest is a key part of any democracy, which UK police uphold and facilitate. We have seen hundreds of thousands of people take the streets since the start of the conflict, with the majority of these occurring in London, and the majority occurring peacefully.
“Even if a protest is peaceful and non-violent, this doesn’t always mean the actions taken by those protestors are legal. We ask that people continue to work with officers at this challenging time to ensure peace in our communities is maintained.
“The primary job of the police is to tackle crime and keep the peace. Where freedom of speech spills over into criminality, we will act where it is necessary and proportionate to maintain public order.”
We know that there is a lot of concern regarding the possibility of protest activity interfering with events surrounding Remembrance Day, and Remembrance Sunday this weekend. Nationally, forces are proactively reaching out to protest groups and working with them to mitigate the risk of any such incidents occurring, and the MPS have asked a coalition of organisers to consider postponing any demonstrations in London.
Collectively, we are constantly examining the intelligence ahead of the weekend to understand any issues, in order to refine policing plans and respond appropriately. We will seek to use the full range of legal powers available which includes the implementation of temporary road closures under various legal frameworks as part of the wider security plan.
Officers also work under the guidance of the Public Order Act 1986, with Section 12 enabling conditions to be imposed on public processions and Section 14 on public assemblies to prevent serious public disorder, serious damage to property, and serious disruption to the life of the community. Equally important in the current context are offences concerning hate crime and the use of Section 5, and Section 18 for inciting racial hatred.
Our priority is always to keep people safe and in every decision around policing public order and protests we must balance the right to freedom of expression and assembly along with our core responsibilities to prevent and detect crime, maintain order and protect life. In addition, the impact upon the wider community is also a key consideration. Officers work within a legal framework that has human rights as the overarching guide. We must act proportionately and impartially in upholding the law.
Policing takes all reports of hate crime seriously because we know that they have a devastating impact on individual victims and targeted communities. Everyone has a right to live their life, and practice their religion, without the fear of targeted abuse for who they are, either physically or verbally; and we will always seek to protect that right.
We have learnt much from monitoring tensions during times of previous conflict, notably in 2014 and 2021, and from the start of this conflict we were aware that there was likely to be an adverse reaction here in the UK, as well as the potential for individuals and extremist groups around the world to use the conflict to justify their own violence. In May 2021, we saw anti-religious hate crime rise from an average of 19 per-day nationally, to a peak of 47 as the conflict unfolded. We are seeing similar trends now.
During times of tension, we monitor regular returns from forces and, whilst these numbers are likely to increase with factors such as retrospective reporting.
So far, we note that the majority of offences notified have been targeting the Jewish Community. For example, from 20-26 October, 210 offences were recorded, a small (<1%) increase on the previous week’s reporting. Most antisemitic hate crimes nationally continue to be reported by the Metropolitan Police Service (71%).
In the same recording period, weekly anti-Islamic hate crime has decreased, with 69 offences reported compared to 74 offences the previous week. By comparison there were an average of 29 antisemitic hate crime and 65 anti-Muslim hate crimes recorded per week in 2022/23, meaning that recorded religious hate crime is significantly elevated above expected levels.
National Policing Advisor for Hate Crime-Paul Giannasi said:
“It is vital that we play an active and informed role to reassure affected communities and by responding robustly to any incidents that seek to increase tensions. We continue to encourage forces to reach out to affected communities and maintain effective communications to reassure them that we will not tolerate illegal activity, regardless of how distressing international events are to our communities.
“We are working closely with key partners, particularly the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA, who are invaluable to our efforts to understand levels of threat and in seeking to reassure our affected communities. We are grateful to be able to work with such important partners, who reach across the divide and work together to support the human rights of all sections of our society.
“We will always pursue action against perpetrators of hate crime where there is the evidence to do so. We strongly encourage anyone who thinks they may have experienced any hate crime to report it to the police. Our officers are highly trained, will treat everyone with respect and dignity and handle cases sensitively. We ask that victims come to us as soon as possible after an offence has been committed so we can begin our investigation as early as possible. Victims can report hate crimes online through our True Vision website at www.report-it.org.uk ”.
Tensions are being monitored daily, and the UK policing response remains one of engagement, assurance and support through local neighbourhood policing teams, ensuring genuine community reassurance through direct local contact. The NPCC and the College of Policing are supporting this effort with coordinated communications and guidance in relation to best practice, legislation, policing powers, and previous learning.
We know that as this conflict continues that there is a chance for other parts of our communities to be targeted with abuse. We’re alive to this possibility, and forces are already engaging with people, businesses, and religious establishments where there may be risk.
National Police Chief’s Council Lead for Neighbourhood Policing, Assistant Chief Constable Michelle Shooter, said:
“Neighbourhood Policing Teams are out on the ground every day, providing a visible police presence and engaging with people right in the heart of communities to understand local issues and concerns.
“The challenging, yet incredibly important, work undertaken by these dedicated officers and staff includes gathering intelligence, arresting offenders, tackling hate crime and anti-social behaviour, supporting victims and working with partners and communities to solve problems.
“The value and impact of this work should not be under estimated. Neighbourhood policing teams understand their communities and know that these are extremely difficult times for many who are directly, or indirectly, affected by events in Israel and Gaza”.
Forces have been working at a pace to respond to these events, and robustly implementing well-tested plans related to hate crime monitoring, community engagement, and policing public order. Collectively, this has already led to thousands of hours of work across the entire service.
Chief Constable Haward added:
“In responding to these incidents, our people have already worked long hours, frequently going above and beyond the call of duty, cancelling leave and rest days, in order to keep people safe, investigate crime that has occurred, bring offenders to justice, and proactively work with communities at risk. Our staff will continue to carry out this vital work for as long as necessary. My thanks go to everyone for this outstanding response, and no doubt, for the work that is still to come over the coming months.