Author Topic: GlimpsesOfThe[BehindTheScenes]Watchers  (Read 2206 times)

Phil Talbot

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« on: March 05, 2012, 11:58:40 AM »

We are in the Gold Command Suite of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Operations Room (SOR) [[as if] looking
over the shoulder of] ... Commander Simon Pountain, who’s in charge of the Met’s public order
operation today.

From the claustrophobic and cramped confines of the squat, square room we watch multiple CCTV
screens as events unfold during the Day Of Action march and rally taking place in central London.
This is the first time access has been given to the Gold Command Suite and to Gold Command meetings,
and it took eight months of [']negotiation['] to get this far.

Locked away in the basement of a brutal concrete block close to Lambeth Palace and within sight of
Westminster Bridge, the SOR is geared up to deal with Britain’s biggest public sector strike since
the Seventies.

If the SOR is the nerve centre for the police operation, then Gold Commander Pountain is the brain:
trained and tasked to deploy nearly 5,000 officers and [']to maintain the peace['].

The commander has a lot on his mind right now, with another screen showing several hundred
protesters attempting to close off one of the main arterial roads in central London by marching
across the Strand.

He watches as, in the shadow of Charing Cross Station, lines of yellow jacketed police begin to
bisect the protesters, with one police line feeding through another at right angles to try to hem in
the crowd.

Two fast-response police cars containing Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs) – who act as the eyes and
ears of the commanders on the ground – race up to the scene of the confrontation to help coordinate

Within minutes the protesters are pushed into a side street, freeing up traffic on the Strand and
allowing the police to deploy reserves who can eventually contain or ‘kettle’ the crowd if it is
deemed necessary.

Two [']armed['] police units are on call and nearby – they can use baton rounds (rubber bullets) should
police feel they have no other option to restore [']order['] in the face of a [']sustained attack['].

These armed units deploy in armoured vehicles, and include specially trained firearms officers, TSG
minders to protect them and a snatch squad to run in and grab [']leaders['] or [']troublemakers['] who have been
‘shot’. It’s decided they are not required today.

One of Pountain’s staff officers then takes a call on his mobile: a senior official from the Cabinet
Office is demanding a briefing within the next ten minutes about the events unfolding in London.
Pountain takes counsel from another aide before sitting down to watch the ‘Heli Tele’ again. He
feels relieved.


There’s a quiet hum inside the Special Operations Room with around 150 staff spread across 28
‘pods’, each with multiple computer screens. The open-plan space has three giant multi-screens, made
up of 32 screens in total. CCTV cameras can be accessed from across London.

This was the centre of police operations during last summer’s riots, and it will be the Met’s
Olympics operation room this summer. You enter from the left-hand side of the rectangular room and
on your left are three suites, with the furthest for the communications team.

The first and second suites house the Silver and Gold Commands and both comprise an ante room
looking onto the SOR and a suite at the back for meetings.

Gold Commander Pountain sets the overall strategy; straight-talking Yorkshireman Peter Terry is the
Silver Command for the day and is responsible for police tactics, with minute-by-minute control of a
team of Bronze commanders beneath him.

Three Bronze commanders deal with the march route: each responsible for a sector, each of which is,
in turn, broken down into ‘sub-bronze’ quadrants, each with a ‘sub-bronze’ commander.

Perhaps the most important Bronze commander today is Bronze 1, Julia Pendry. The 46-year-old chief
superintendent commands 250 level 3 ordinary bobbies on the beat and another 200 level 2 riot-
trained officers.  

Gearing up in her New Scotland Yard office for a ‘recce’ along the march route, Pendry looks on as
her colleagues don the full gear of groin and body armour, shin pads, ‘hooves’ (feet protection) and
flame-proof overalls.

‘It is hugely important to have the right look and feel for the march,’ she says.
‘It is important that people can exercise their democratic rights but it is difficult to get the
balance right. The level 3 officers will wear yellow jackets and helmets and the public order
trained officers will have flat caps.’

This ‘soft’ policing extends to having level 3 officers in front of the barriers and keeping riot-
trained  officers behind the barriers for the duration of the march through central London. Only
when the TUC stewards, [']who have a well-established rapport with the police['], cannot [']manage['] a
situation will the police  be called in to deal with it and any action is governed  by [']strict police

‘Anything within my footprint or bubble immediately around the march is down to me,’ says Pendry, as
she walks down the Strand.

‘If anyone or any group deviates off the march it goes to a geographic bronze. Eagles 1 and 2 – the
helicopters – have public order commanders on board and if we see any [']spontaneous movement of people[']
they can move resources from other commands to deal with the [']problem['].’


From an article by Adam Luck
« Last Edit: March 05, 2012, 12:18:50 PM by Phil Talbot »