Policing the police at the G20 meeting

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. The image of the benevolent British bobby is taking a bit of a beating in Britain. Parliament began hearings today into the behavior of some police officers during the G-20 summit in London at the beginning of this month. It follows a record number of complaints, and three separate investigations into alleged attacks by police against those protesting the summit. One of the confrontations may have proved deadly. The World's Laura Lynch reports.

LAURA LYNCH: The role reversal is making for some uncomfortable days for Britain's police officers. The investigators are being investigated - some for allegedly assaulting protestors gathered in London earlier this month. Dennis O'Connor carries the title of Chief Inspector of Constabulary, a kind of top administrative cop. He's now conducting a review of the way officers police protests. It's a review prompted by the growing number of videos coming out showing questionable tactics.

DENNIS O'CONNOR: The British way British policing is a very noble cause to guard our people, indeed some die for it. So I think when the British people see images which are only images they're only snapshots they become concerned when they think maybe we're departing from the British way of the minimum use of force.

LYNCH: This is part of what police were facing during the largely peaceful protests at the G20 summit. A handful of demonstrators smashed their way inside a bank building - police scrambled to restore order. But it's what happened later that triggered the intense examination of police procedures. One man, Ian Tomlinson, was trying to get home, not even part of the protest. A man with a cell phone filmed an officer, his face covered with a balaclava, shoving Tominlson to the ground as he was walked away with his hands in his pockets. Tomlinson died within minutes; the case has now become a criminal investigation. At a parliamentary hearing today, the head of the independent police complaints commission, Nick Hardwick, acknowledged the ensuing cascade complaints, complete with videos and photos of other alleged assaults.

NICK HARDWICK: Clearly the pictures are disturbing. But what I would also say to people is as I think members of the committee have correctly pointed out the pictures are a snapshot. And what we will not do and what I will not do, is make assumptions prior to the completion of our investigation. We will make our decisions on the basis of the total evidence we collect, not on the basis of today's headlines.

LYNCH: But there is one judgment Chief Inspector O'Connor is willing to make right now: he told members of parliament he can't abide evidence that some officers hid or didn't wear their identification badges.

DENNIS O'CONNOR: It's utterly unacceptable and that's it. There is no explanation. Well for people not to be wearing their numerals. It's utterly unacceptable. That's it. It's not a long winded thing. It's just one of those issues that's very clear-cut.

LYNCH: In the days leading up to the protests, police issued warnings about the possibility of violence. With so many world leaders in town, security was exceptionally tight, and the force's defenders want the world to remember that. The Labor government's Alan West told the House of Lords today the public needs to keep things in perspective.

ALAN WEST: I have to say I do not like the thought of water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people all of which seem to occur in other countries. And I am jolly glad I actually live in this country.

LYNCH: But there are others who Britain's police have become increasingly heavy-handed. Even the head of the independent complaints commission has already warned police, reminding them they are the servants, not the masters of the people. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch, in London.