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Public disorder

Public disorder includes things like looting, vandalism, violence and arson. Disorder is unpredictable, but the majority of protests remain peaceful. On rare occasions, events can escalate and public disorder arises. UK law enables peaceful protests and these are not classified as public disorder.  

Consequences of public disorder may include:   

  •  Physical and/or psychological casualties  
  •  Disruption to critical services, particularly police and health  
  •  Damage to property and infrastructure  
  •  Evacuation or temporary shelter requirements  
  •  Economic damage  
  •  Ongoing community tension and concern. 

Have such events happened before?

Although nothing notable in Cambridgeshire, in recent decades, although rare, serious widespread disorder in the UK has happened.  

On 6 August 2011, a protest in Tottenham following the shooting of Mark Duggan by the police escalated into widespread public disorder. Over four days, disorder spread first in London and then to Manchester, Salford, the West Midlands and a number of other towns and cities across England. The disorder varied in character from area to area but included violence directed at police officers, damage to property and extensive looting.  

The G20 summits in 2009 and 2017 resulted in varying degrees of violent disorder, while the tuition fees protest in 2010 saw incidents of criminal damage and use of improvised missiles against police.  

There have been examples of isolated pockets of disorder within other events.  

In some cases, social media can falsely amplify the extent of these incidents.

What’s being done about the risk?

Pre-event Monitoring

The police have a range of mechanisms in place to identify and assess known and emerging risks that could require a public order policing response. These are based within community and local policing, and reported and monitored at a force, regional and national level.

Significant work has been carried out following the disorder of August 2011 to improve the government’s understanding of how public disorder can begin. This allows the police to identify risks, implement measures to reduce escalation and prepare in advance with plans to allocate and mobilise resources.

Response Capabilities

Since 2011, improvements have been made to the public order capability. Regular and frequent testing and exercising continues around mobilisation, tactics and training for police, to ensue they are able to respond. The College of Policing and National Police Chiefs Council guide these processes to assure they are consistent and of a high standard.

Community engagement

This engagement is now endorsed as a critical factor in defusing tensions. It is a tactical response built into the foundational element of police command, training and response.


In addition to a regional network of Public Order Police Professionals (which sits under the National Police Chiefs’ Council), there are thematic leads supported by the National Police Co-ordination Centre. The centre is responsible for co-ordinating the deployment of police officers and staff from across UK policing to support forces during large scale events, operations and in times of national crisis. 

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