Candidate Security and the General Election

As with every election the police’s role is to prevent and detect crime and enable the democratic process to take place unhindered.

We take that role very seriously because intimidation of candidates and their supporters has serious implications for individuals and democracy.

We want every candidate to know we are here to help keep you and your supporters safe as this election takes place.

Today all candidates are being offered guidance and sensible advice.

The guidance is not intended to restrict activity in any way but support candidates on the campaign trail.

We’re also gearing (or scaling) up across all forces by:

  • offering security briefings
  • assigning a detective superintendent for candidate security in every force
  • nationally monitoring reports and incidents on a daily basis.

Strong and varied views are the mark of a healthy democracy, but we will deal robustly with people who cross the line into criminal abuse, harassment or disorder. 

Why the extra push/are you worried etc?

This election is unusual.

  • It’s happening in winter when candidates and supporters will be canvassing in the dark
  • There’s been an increase in abuse and threats against MPs
  • Candidates tell us they are more concerned about security than in other elections

Our enhanced response to candidates and security advice is practical and precautionary that context.  Not as a result of intelligence of threats.

The guidance

The guidance has been jointly produced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, CPS, College of Policing and the Electoral Commission.

It provides personal security advice to candidates:

  • not canvassing alone
  • conducting an online check to minimise the amount of public information about yourself
  • it outlines some of the key offences so candidates can be clear about when they should be reporting an incident to police. (criminal damage, abusive or threatening behaviour, harassment, stalking and hate crimes).

Stats

From September 2018 until July 2019 the unit that provides security and advice for parliamentarians received 238 requests for support.

In the past week that same team has taken 52 reports, of which half were recorded as crimes, and the rest were noted for intelligence. (IF pushed vast majority were malicious comms)

Language

Anyone with a public voice should consider the potential for their language to inflame or calm tensions.  But we don’t, and shouldn’t, police politician’s language – those are judgement calls politicians need to make themselves.

Questions and Answers

Is this the first time you have published this guidance?

Local police forces have always worked with candidates and the Electoral Commission on security issues but this is the first time we’ve had joint guidance like this.  And we are scaling up our operational response.

Can’t you do anything to stop all these threats and abuse?

Strong and varied views are the mark of a healthy democracy, but should never cross the line into criminal abuse, harassment or disorder.

We will take reports seriously, respond robustly and there are serious penalties for those who are found guilty of criminal offences.

You say you don’t want to restrict activity but that’s exactly what this guidance will do – is it necessary?

This guidance does not restrict activity or tell any candidates to do so but it simply offers advice and support to help those working in this election keep themselves safe but also allows them to be clear what sort of behaviour is not acceptable and should be reported to the police.

We want every candidate to know that the police are here to support you and help keep you and your supporters safe as this election takes place.

Are you concerned by the current febrile atmosphere/are you worried about candidates in this election?

We are concerned by rises in abuse/threats, and we know candidates are concerned.

We see evidence of heightened tensions – angry talk across social media, clashes between groups at protests – but have no intelligence to suggest a heightened risk to candidates.

Our enhanced response to candidates and security advice is practical and precautionary that context.  Not as a result of intelligence of threats.

Action taken - We are taking steps collaboratively to track and monitor abuse and do what we can to mitigate it and prosecute where appropriate. Police have already secured prosecutions in recent months.

What is considered criminal abuse, harassment or disorder?

The same laws and expectations of behaviour apply in an election as the ones which apply day to day.

It is illegal to commit criminal damage, attack a person, harass, stalk, or threaten them. It is illegal to commit hate crimes against people because of their skin colour, religion, disability, sexual orientation etc.

People should be able to express differences of opinion and debate issues – but they can’t cross the line into criminal abuse, harassment or disorder.

Politicians using strong language aren’t helping you are they?

As above.  Not going to comment on specific politcian’s language.

Increased threat from canvassing at night/what advice is there?

The guidance advises candidates to stick together when they are out canvassing and make sure that someone else knows where you are. These are simple steps that can be taken to keep people safe.

What role will police play against hostile actors from other states, looking to interfere with our elections – such as through cyber attacks?

This is a matter for security agencies and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC):

  • provide advice on managing cyber risks and protecting networks
  • respond quickly and decisively to significant cyber security incidents.

Are these threats for real, or do MPs just get some abuse on social media?

There is both criminal and non-criminal activity.  Intimidation and criminal activity needs a robust response.

Is this election different to any other for you?

Answer above on why extra push.

Will incumbent candidates be maintaining their existing security arrangements throughout the election period?

Yes, incumbents will continue to have their points of contact into policing for any existing security advice.

What is your message to the public, who will want to exercise their freedom of speech?

We are not policing people’s language. But we are clear, threats, harassment and intimidation will be dealt with robustly.

Is Brexit/ other factor to blame for the rise in abuse?

MPs receive threats for a variety of reasons. We have seen racist abuse, sexist abuse, abuse targeting MPs for the way they’ve voted on particular social issues.

Abuse existed before Brexit became a political issue, but we have also seen increases in abuse and in reports of hate crime against MPs at key moments in the Brexit political process.

Background

Purdah

Police business does not cease in a pre-election period and normal functions of policing must be performed.

Care must be taken by police in this period to avoid activity that could reasonably be seen to affect the outcome of the election. We are offering the same guidance to all candidates, at the same time, in a consistent and transparent way.

Forces and individual officers must retain impartiality and avoid any action which is, or might reasonably be perceived as being, supportive of or oppositional to any party, candidate or political opinion.

Background on the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team

The MPS formed the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team (PLAIT) in September 2016. It was established following the murder of MP Jo Cox in order to better manage and investigate a rising number of reports of offences of an abusive, threatening or intimidating nature against MPs/Candidates, their staff and families.

Policing an election

Elections work smoothly because of the partnership working between agencies and organisations such as local Returning Officers, The Electoral Commission, the police, CPS and others. We do have a role to play and we take this role extremely seriously.

Decisions about policing elections – whether to have police officers at polling stations or hustings/rallies etc – will be taken at local level by chiefs based on assessments of threat and risk.

Chiefs will commit the necessary resources to ensure the integrity of the democratic process. A mutual aid process exists to help forces seek support from their neighbouring forces if this is necessary.

For events with significant attendance, such as large constituency hustings, we advise organisers to contact police prior to the event to ensure appropriate security guidance can be given.

Whilst 2019 presents an election in a month of the year we’re not traditionally used to, the work of the police largely remains similar to how we would usually operate.

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