FAQs: Public Order

Can you offer any reassurance to police officers who are in the front line of public order situations and are required to use force to protect themselves and others?

We are acutely aware of the pressures and danger that police officers face while dealing with public disorder.

Officers in these situations perform a vital role under extreme pressure. Their role is sensitive and often dangerous. They often perform it in the full glare of media and political attention and in the knowledge that their actions may also be scrutinised by the Police Ombudsman's Office. They are required to balance the competing rights of opposing groups, while safeguarding their own right to protection and personal safety. It is by no means an easy task, and we recognise that.

Nevertheless, the Police Ombudsman's Office has an important role to play in ensuring that the use of force - including potentially lethal force such as AEPS - is justified and proportionate in the circumstances of its use. We test compliance with the law and with force orders, and any officer acting in accordance with those will not be subject to criticism by this Office.

We will also consider whether an officer has been properly trained for the role he or she is undertaking and will take into account the stress and pressures likely to be experienced by officers in any given scenario.

However, laws, force orders, processes and procedures have been put in place for good reason. They help to ensure that force is used by police only when necessary, and in a way which protects officers and members of the public while minimising the potential for serious injury. We have a role in ensuring the law and guidelines are complied with, which is in the long-term best interests of everyone concerned.

If you want to learn more about our investigation of incidents associated with unrest in Northern Ireland, summaries of some of our investigations of these incidents can be found here.

Is it true that representatives of the Police Ombudsman, during previous serious public disorder, have been in the police Gold Command Room advising on elements of the police operation? There is a concern that this might have compromised the ability of police commanders to make speedy operational decisions when officers' lives depended upon it - in particular, decisions relating to the deployment and use of AEPs

Neither the Police Ombudsman or his staff would seek to influence PSNI operational decisions during a public order situation.

The only time we attend a control room is where we are called, i.e. following the discharge of AEPs, never before. An Investigator may then attend the Control Room to gain an understanding as to what happened and make decisions as to what action the Police Ombudsman needs to take immediately. The Investigator would only remain in the Control Room for a short time and not influence operational decisions.

We have no remit to perform such an advisory role during these situations, and for good reason. If we did so we would then find ourselves in the ridiculous position of investigating decisions which we ourselves influenced.

You can be assured that we have never, and never will, seek to influence or impede in any way the decision making process in Command Rooms during situations such as this.

Your Office seems to be investigating all incidents where we drive at crowds. You do not seem to understand that this is a public order tactic. What else do they expect us to do?

In talks to communities, the issue of the aggressive use of Land Rovers by PSNI officers is regularly raised. We also do receive complaints about their use. It is accepted that there will be occasions when Land Rovers have to be used to keep crowds separated particularly at the initial stages of spontaneous riots when police resources are not available in sufficient numbers to deploy safely. We fully understand that.

However, the use of Land Rovers to intimidate persons or drive at crowds when such justification is not present does not form part of any public order tactic and will make such drivers vulnerable to criminal prosecution or misconduct proceedings. Such irresponsible driving can unnecessarily put lives at risk and impact on community confidence in the police.

Is the use of Tasers by police subject to automatic investigation by the Police Ombudsman?

Until late 2016, all discharges of police TASER stun guns in Northern Ireland were investigated by the Police Ombudsman's Office.

However, following discussions between the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman's Office this has now changed.

The PSNI continues to notify the Police Ombudsman’s Office about all firearms discharges, including TASERs. But rather than automatically initiating an investigation, Police Ombudsman staff now conduct preliminary enquiries to assess whether a full investigation is necessary.

Only in cases where the Police Ombudsman is of the view that an investigation is required in the public interest, will TASER discharges now be subject to a full investigation.

We hope this will streamline the process and free up investigative resources.  

Twitter home