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Servator: how a hostile feels

The Project Servator counter-terror police patrol tactic launched officially covering London yesterday. At about 9.15am, dozens of police from deputy chief constable rank down were gathered inside the Tower of London (see the Met Police website for the group photo). A deployment in Parliament Square at Westminster followed.

Professional Security magazine around that time, on its way to Parliament Square, had its own experience of Servator. For the magazine has, it turns out, followed Servator from its earliest days. In the spring of 2014 it reported on Servator at One New Change, the shopping centre across the road from St Paul’s Cathedral, inside the City of London Police area; the City force was first to do Servator and continues to have oversight of it, alongside the official Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). Professional Security has since seen and reported on Servator at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (in use by Police Scotland); at King’s Cross main line railway station (British Transport Police); in the City again, around St Paul’s; at Sellafield nuclear power station (the 100pc armed, Civil Nuclear Constabulary); and last summer the intu shopping centre at Thamesmead (Essex Police). In every place – and others doing Servator, such as Stansted Airport – the same consistency of method, applied to a public space, ‘crowded place’ to use the counter-terrorism lingo of a train terminus, retail mall or wherever. Always the same attention to detail, and application of method; careful use of private security, and the public generally as ‘eyes and ears’; and (also part of that attention to detail) informing people of what Servator is about, to reassure. All for a purpose; to make life more difficult and uncomfortable for the ‘hostile’, whether someone carrying out reconnaissance, considering a terror attack; or a burglar or robber or street thief, anyone who would find the attention of the police unwelcome.

In spring 2014 at One New Change Professional Security saw police patrollers at work with the centre’s security staff, and retailers, to make the place more hostile to criminals. Four years on, Professional Security thought to take again a photo that it took in 2014; of the view of St Paul’s from the centre of the mall. We were riding a hire bicycle and parked it against a post and snapped away.

Having done that for a minute, and taken care to face the cathedral always, not to point the camera around – Professional Security looked over its right shoulder. In one of the shops, looking out the glass door, a man in a grey suit was looking directly at us.

This is how it must feel, as a ‘hostile’. Had someone asked our business, we could have explained – we had a copy of the latest issue of the print magazine in our bag. But it felt uncomfortable; knowing that we were under surveillance. It was a telling experience. You want to act normally, of course, and not attract (further) attention. But, you ask yourself, what is normal? In this case, is it for the best to undo the camera unhurriedly? Or to pack away as fast as you can, to show that you are not hanging around? Or, should you do it slower than you would do normally, to show that you are unconcerned? And above all, you feel that you ought not to take another look at the man – who had a short beard – because would that not be suspicious?

Yet how hard it is to resist a second look! Once we were done, we did look, and yes, he was still looking at us. There was nothing for it but to pick up the cycle and push it out of the mall and go on our way. (On reflection, perhaps a wave to acknowledge the man would have been best, and indeed polite. But there’s the point; the Servator method does not allow the ‘hostile’ the time to consider next moves.)

One of the beauties of Servator is, as police say, the unpredictability of it; police do patrols of varying sorts at various times, using a mix of ‘assets’ – uniformed police and plain-clothes, mounted officers on horses, sniffer dogs (and what are they sniffing for?!), even a helicopter. They deploy when and where they do according to intelligence, for a reason, not merely because it’s a nice-looking day. They may tell Security and local businesses in advance, they may not. Always the purpose of making maximum use of the ‘assets’ for best effect.

Another beauty is the doubt it sows in the minds of a ‘hostile’. No-one at One New Change came up to Professional Security, to challenge. Nothing was said. Professional Security has not been to One New Change since 2014 and has no cause to go back. We can only say that it looks like the Servator principles are alive and working at One New Change, four years on.

One last point. A couple of hours later Professional Security was in Parliament Square for the official launch of London-wide coverage of Servator, by the Met, British Transport Police, and Ministry of Defence Police (covering Whitehall, in this case), besides the City. While speaking to Supt Helen Isaac of the City force, of the National Project Servator Team, Professional Security mentioned the good experience (good as a citizen, unsettling if you had ill-intent) at One New Change. She replied: “Everybody in a Project Servator [deployment] is watching you. It’s about the person who works in the coffee shop who understands what Servator is and what to look for, it’s about taking that all-encompassing effect all the time, whether there’s police there or not.” She then said that she would pass on the good feedback to One New Change – a small but telling example of that attention to detail; and how thought-out Servator has been all along.

It had been worth it; St Paul’s made a fine photo.

Photo by Mark Rowe.

For more about Project Servator, visit the City of London Police website.


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