Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) are the police intelligence gathering operations found at demonstrations or public order situations. They are usually identifiable by the pale blue shoulder sections across their hi-visibility jackets and by having a civilian cameraman in toe.
The FIT were present on the scene when PC Simon Harwood killed newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson during the G20 demonstrations at the Bank of England in 2009, and gave evidence at Tomlinson’s inquest defending the actions of Harwood.
In London FIT are managed by the Metropolitan police’s ‘Public Order Intelligence Unit’, which is itself part of the Met’s public order unit, known as CO11.
Typically demonstrations will include a few full-time cops from CO11. They will direct and oversee the intelligence gathering operation and support the various FITs.
FITs are usually ordinary response police officers who volunteer for the role on a part time basis – although some are more ‘part time’ than others. Some of these officers are almost permanent fixtures at demos while others are seen much more rarely.
They have a variety of roles, which include:
• ‘Spotting’ or identifying people they know from previous events. These people are sometimes then targeted for increased police surveillance, a stop and search or are ‘accompanied’ (see below);
• Gaining intelligence on people they decide they have an interest in. FIT officers have testified in court they gain intelligence on people who have committed no offences and have done nothing wrong. They will focus on people who may frequently attend political protest, or who associate with someone already ‘known’. They also look out for people who appear to be peer group leaders, or who are prominently leading chants or using a megaphone. Obvious involvement in groups thought to be radical, such as ‘Stop the War’ can also trigger attention.
• Directing photographers or evidence gatherers to take photographs and footage of individuals or groups. Sometimes this photography is prolonged and intrusive, and they have been known to follow a group of people for half an hour or more to obtain front, back, side and close up shots of each subject. They do NOT need to have suspicion that any offence has occurred, or will occur.
• Obtaining personal details of people they are interested in. This is frequently done by carrying out a stop and search to obtain people’s details, but other methods have also been used. They frequently misuse S60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which gives them a blanket power to stop and search everyone, without need for suspicion.
• Writing intelligence reports including descriptions, names and any other intelligence obtained for inclusion onto a police database. In London these are entered onto the CRIMINT (criminal intelligence) database
• ‘Accompanying’ activists they are interested in. This is supposedly carried out to prevent crimes taking place, although it often resembles harassment. They have been known to ‘accompany’ protesters for many hours, and this has included following them to their places of work, their homes, into pubs and shops, on trains and buses, even tailing their cars as they drive home.
• Gaining pre-event intelligence. This usually involves surveillance of meetings, and the identification of individuals thought to be organisers.