Police forces will take strong steps to stop violent disorder at protests after more than 60 officers were injured in anti-racism demonstrations, chiefs have warned.
Demonstrators clashed with officers in London last weekend, while in Bristol a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and dumped in the city’s harbour.
A total of 62 UK officers have been “injured in one way or another” in protests triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said.
Mr Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Essex Police Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said more than 155,000 people across the UK had taken part in almost 200 demonstrations.
Some 137 people have been arrested, while others have been fined for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules, which ban gatherings of more than six people.
Mr Harrington said: “We will not tolerate violence in our communities, whether that’s against people, whether it’s against property or, indeed, against police officers, and if this kind of disorder occurs, we will act.
“It’s unacceptable that so many officers were injured in London over the weekend. And I think any criminality will be thoroughly investigated and action will be taken against those who commit offences.”
The Colston monument has been lifted out of Bristol Harbour and is expected to be put in a museum , while activists have drawn up a list of other statues they want to see removed.
NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said anyone who damages a monument or pulls down a statue is committing a criminal offence and police “will seek to bring people to justice”.
But he added: “It’s not a matter for the police, unless a criminal offence is committed, this is a matter for those people that own or are the guardians of the statues wherever they may be, and dealing with those people who feel very strongly about appropriateness or otherwise of those statues.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel is reported to have had a “firm” discussion with Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Andy Marsh about why officers did not intervene when the Colston statue was torn down.
But Mr Harrington, the NPCC lead for public order, said it was up to operational commanders to make decisions on whether officers should step in to stop damage to monuments but said people’s safety would be prioritised over property.
He said: “What we will do is have appropriate plans and of course the officers will be there looking to make sure that people don’t get hurt in the first instance, trying to protect property if that’s the right thing to do, but people come first, making sure officers and those taking part are safe.”