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Servator around St Paul’s

In the spring we reported on Project Servator at One New Change near St Paul’s Cathedral – the police counter-terrorist work drawing on security guard forces, and other ‘assets’. In the summer we were in Glasgow to see Servator before the Commonwealth Games, including its use of public space CCTV. At the start of winter we returned to the City of London to see the latest Servator deployment. Photo of City of London Police horse by Ashley Lewis.

The front line against terrorism was the counter of Starbucks in Paternoster Square, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s Cathedral. For there, as in other shops around the privately-owned square, were leaflets outlining Project Servator. Let’s open the leaflet as we wait for our mint tea, and whatever you’re having. It’s 1.30pm on a weekday and although all the tables are taken, there are some high chairs free. On the red front of the leaflet is the latest advertising picture, as you will have seen in November’s Professional Security. As we were told previously about Servator, everything is by design – when and where police deploy, and with what ‘assets’; even down to the colour co-ordination of the advertising, on the digital and paper posters at St Paul’s Underground station, inside the nearby One New Change shopping centre, and everywhere else, notably the outside of the many building sites in the City. ‘Together, we’ll help keep people safe,’ says the front of the Servator leaflet. Turn over and it says: “Project Servator is a very effective tactic used by the [City of London] force to help deter and detect a wide range of criminality, from pickpockets to terrorism, whilst providing a reassuring presence to the public.” It’s striking that of those 12 sentences that describe Servator and what you see when it’s running somewhere, two sentences cover private security, and including a name-check for the SIA. The leaflet goes on briefly and matter-of-factly to describe ‘how YOU can help’ and how a business can, too – by explaining to customers if they ask why coppers are about, and encouraging staff to report anything suspicious, whether by speaking to an officer, or dialling the non-emergency number 101, or 999.

Here, then are the reasons why Servator matters to readers, quite apart from in the City as in Glasgow and indeed all Scotland, private security might work with police on Servator. How police deploy ‘assets’ – dogs, horses, uniformed and plain-clothes officers and indeed ex-military ‘friendly hostiles’ to mimic hostile reconnaissance and see if someone doing it would be picked up – to best effect is of interest to guard forces. Besides, how to get right that balance between deterring criminals, and not being off-putting and making the law-abiding anxious? Officially police are welcoming corporate security officers patrolling beyond their front entrance, in the name of ‘extra eyes and ears’ and making the most of ‘assets’ in an era of public sector austerity. Understandably, police will not go into detail about how Servator deploys: why it might be three hours, or one hour; why one day here and not another there. We can hope that the ideas come to private security, whether through the official CPNI, or informally, or gradually if deployers enter private security with their experience. Suffice to say there is as Matt Hone, one of the City of London CTSAs (counter-terrorism security advisers) puts it, ‘an intelligence framework behind it, and a matrix of options’. He is Servator project manager – he was the man who gave it the name. As an aside, it’s Latin for ‘observer’ or watcher (so I am told). Matt Hone described the word as ‘unblemished’ – that is, police checked that the word doesn’t have historical or other meanings that might undermine the work. An example of the attention to detail in Servator.

He’s standing in a corner of Paternoster Square. After a bright frosty morning it’s turned grey; the beginning of winter. He says of Servator: “It will remain unpredictable in time, location and the asset used. We have dogs out today; tomorrow the mounted branch might be out; next day there might be six officers, or no-one here. You might see we have our TEOs [tactical engagement officers; Servator, like everything, comes with jargon] patrolling with private security teams. If you are carrying out suspicious behaviour, we will get to hear about it, because it will be reported … It’s a partnership.” What we couldn’t see on the square, as the City of London Sgt Matt Timms described later, was that an officer was in the CCTV control room of Broadgate Estates – the owners of the land – as an extra pair of eyes. “Just like the security teams; this isn’t just about the City of London Police; all the key partners are involved as well.”

Readers may have heard talk of partnership, for a dozen years or more; and they may roll their eyes at such phrases as ‘intelligence-led’. And yet the Servator publicity, as the uniformed City of London Police officers walk around the square with the Paternoster Square patroller in hi-vis jacket, and as the City of London Police Commissioner Adrian Leppard – also standing in a corner of the square – all say that the work with private security is real and for sound (and ‘intelligence-led’!) reasons. Police leave a ‘footprint’, to use more jargon. To put it more plainly, each side gets to know names, put in place pieces of the overall crime prevention and community safety jigsaw. In fairness, another reason the details of how officers are deployed for most effect may be that, as Matt Hone says: “We are still really in the early stages.” The tactics are revised, issues ironed out: “We want to do it slowly and methodically.” He points out to Professional Security that it’s called Project Servator, not Operation Servator. Its various arms – the reassurance of the passing public, the work with businesses of all sizes, training of officers to be reassuring while vigilant for anyone who reacts suspiciously to bumping into so many uniforms, whether or how the project spreads beyond the City and Scotland – will grow.

The commissioner, Adrian Leppard, makes the same points; Servator is unpredictable; it’s about looking at suspicious activity; not only terrorism (‘terrorism is a form of crime’); and not only, or even necessarily, about catching criminals, but disrupting them, and making them anxious. Not the public. He quotes from some newly-released YouGov polling that has made that day’s Evening Standard. “We know historically they [the public] feel very reassured by more visible policing on the streets and this [Servator] makes it very visible and very obvious. We do try and engage with the public and explain why we are doing it, and the feedback and from the survey is very positive.” The poll showed Londoners are aware of the terrorism threat and are supportive of the police. More interesting to a private security audience, Leppard raised Project Griffin (http://www.projectgriffin.org.uk) – to recap, the ten-year-old work begun by the City of London force with private security guard forces, such as training in spotting hostile reconnaissance, and staffing of security lines, for instance in an area evacuation in a bomb alert. Leppard said: “What we are trying to do is capitalise on a relationship by engaging with our Project Griffin guards … there’s a genuine community approach.”

The Paternoster Square deployment is over; we pass the front of St Paul’s, by the van with the advertising board for Servator saying ‘Trust your instincts – we do’ in the same red as the brochures on the Starbucks counter, the hand-bills the officers offer to the public, and the A-board set up at each deployment. The next deployment is nearby at Millennium Bridge. On the way, separately two people, presumably tourists, stop the commissioner to ask him for directions. His entourage stops while he answers. The tourists go on their way with no idea that they have spoken to one of the most senior policemen in England. At the north side of the bridge we see the uniformed officers and horse – which always gets photographed – standing with its back to the Salvation Army offices. This deployment is different from the more open Paternoster Square. It’s a funnel. Again, interesting to see the public reactions: taking it all in their stride. As an aside, at both deployments are clipboard interviewers doing ‘market research’ on Servator – another example of how Servator is all done by design. How sure can anyone be that what they do in public is right, or best, without asking?! Bear in mind here the first thing that the commissioner mentioned to Professional Security – stop and search. Again, it’s something that relates to guard forces, whether at pub doors or in shopping malls. Briefly, while security and police officers alike may have reason to want to search someone – for a knife, for stolen goods – it’s also politically controversial. It’s far better – and Servator has the evidence to back it up, not just anecdote or gut feeling – to search only those who react suspiciously to a Servator deployment.

In the canteen of Bishopsgate police station, across the road from Liverpool Street station, Sgt Matt Timms, the man in charge of the officers on those two Servator deployments, talks to Professional Security from the other side of the table. On other tables, others are eating. Someone is writing at one. At Millennium Bridge, police stopped two men on bicycles, suspected of being stolen. Matt Timms goes over some of the other cases arising from Servator: largely to do with immigration offences. Illegal entrants. Overstayers. Holders of false foreign passports. Cannabis with intent to supply. Khat. And what sounds almost Dickensian: fleecers of tourists by sleight of hand at a ‘game of cups’. He echoes Matt Hone that Servator is a process; the design is not, or never, finished. “To be honest we do learn something nearly every day … the more times we go out there, the tactics do get tweaked to get better and better.” Other places Servator has deployed include the Swiss Re building (the ‘Gherkin’) and Leadenhall. The police might put a call in to the private control room 20 minutes before asking to come in – ‘I always try and put one of my team into the control room,’ Matt Timms says of Paternoster Square in particular, ‘because they have some great CCTV’. Just as different sites might call for different tactics, so aims might be different: to deal with a known problem, or just to be visible. While some officers will be plain-clothes, it’s intriguing that some might be more plain-clothes than others. The sergeant might call one over to speak to, which plants the idea; how many others in plain clothes are there?!

It’s 6pm. Two Tube stops from Liverpool Street, crowds are visiting the remarkable 800,000 poppies in the moat of the Tower of London – not as many as by day, but still thousands of people. Nearby at the north side of Tower Bridge, Sgt Matt Timms’ men are deployed. I say hello to one. It’s coming on to rain. Servator evidently is a project not only for the summer and sunshine.

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

For the Professional Security report on Servator in Glasgow before the Commonwealth Games, visit http://www.professionalsecurity.co.uk/news/interviews/servator-before-the-games/.


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