In Brief

What are the differences between British and US police tactics?

American officers accused of escalating George Floyd demonstrations by using excessive force

Shocking footage of US police officers deploying “military style” tactics against demonstrators at the George Floyd protests has led to comparisons with policing practices in other countries.

In other nations “including many in Europe, the police practices that are causing outrage in the United States are either entirely banned or are far more strictly regulated”, reports The Washington Post.

In countries such as UK, police training “may focus on how to use space and time to reduce a threat”, says the newspaper.

By contrast, crisis intervention and de-escalation “tends to be an afterthought” during training in the US, according to Paul Hirschfield, an associate professor of sociology at New Jersey’s Rutgers University.

Indeed, US officers have relied on “escalated use of force to try to police the protests” triggered by Floyd’s death, says Jennifer Cobbina, an associate professor in criminal justice at Michigan State University. 

Pointing to the use of anti-riot weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades, Cobbina told Wired that the US police response has been “incredibly heavy-handed, it’s militarised tactics - and it’s used on protesters who are actually protesting police violence”.

Officers in the US are “much more militarised than [other] western countries”, agrees University of Arizona professor Jennifer Earl, who studies police and protests.

“We do on average have more aggressive policing than our peers,” Earl told The Washington Post.

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As the BBC reported in the wake of Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019, police in the UK appear to take the view that “attempting to carry out mass arrests” during any protests “could cause trouble”. 

“By ‘waiting it out’, they hope that the demonstrations might gradually wind down of their own accord,” according to the broadcaster.

However, over in the US, police have instead attempted to “terrify people with military tactics” during the Floyd protests, says Wired. 

Ed Maguire, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University, told the news site that “the research suggests pretty routinely that when police over-respond to these events, they tend to escalate rebellion and defiance, rather than de-escalating it. So we recommend a more measured approach.”

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