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Policing Hooliganism


The UK has been perceived as having the biggest and longest problem with hooliganism and has as a result taken the lead in the policing of this problem. This has involved the adoption of a number of measures by the police as well as the use of legislation by the British government. These developments have been as a reaction to the problem of hooliganism and have been influenced by technological developments. These advances have helped co-operation between the Member States of the European Union.

A number of different approaches have been use by the police in order to police football hooliganism. One of the key approaches has been the use of undercover operations. The use of plain clothes officers to infiltrate groups of hooligans has been used in the UK since the 1960s. This has become a particularly useful tool since the 1980s when the hooligan groups started to become more organised. The potential for information to be gathered this way was shown recently by the BBC reporter Donal Macintyre who was able to infiltrate and covertly film the Chelsea headhunters gang. This led to the arrest of a number of people for participating in hooligan activity. However, there are also problems associated with the infiltration of hooligan gangs. It is often difficult to obtain a conviction and the reliability of the evidence is often disputed.

One of the main ways in which police monitor hooliganism is through the use of spotters. The spotter system involves a liaison officer being attached to a particular club. His job is then to identify and monitor hooligans when they are travelling to away games. He will also co-operate with other police forces both in the UK and abroad if information is needed on any hooligans from his particular club. During Euro 96 this system was one of the main examples of co-operation between police from different European countries. Officers from other states were sent to work alongside spotters at the participating grounds. This system was first pioneered at the 1988 European Championships when English officers operated in Germany in order to spot hooligans.

Technology has been an important part of policing football hooliganism since the 1980s. CCTV is now used in and around almost every ground in the UK. In some cases, particularly the larger stadiums including Old Trafford and the old Wembley Stadium have large police control rooms from which they can monitor the surrounding area for trouble as well as looking at the crowd inside the stadium. CCTV has become so much of a part of football that according to a Home Office report from 1993; "Football supporters are probably more accustomed to being subjected to camera surveillance than most other groups in society." To supplement this police officers also use video cameras to record crowds going in and out of matches and anyone who may be considered to be acting suspiciously. When there is fighting within stadia, then the police will record this and use the evidence collected in order to prosecute troublemakers involved. One way of conducting surveillance is the "hoolivan." This is a vehicle with a wide range of cameras and can also act as a control room. Images from this surveillance can be shared with police forces in other countries if it is known that any of these hooligans may be going abroad. One suggestion as a way of doing this came from the European Union. The suggestion was that an email system could be used to ensure the swift exchange of police intelligence between states. Information technology first played a big part in the policing of football during the Euro 96 tournament. The IT group of the National Criminal Intelligence Service set up and maintained computer links between the National Co-ordinating Centre and match commanders at each of the venues. This was used to monitor movement of fans and exchange of information.

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Created by James Rowlands on Dreamweaver for The Politics of Policing Transnational Crime, University of Exeter 2001. E-mail J.P.Rowlands@exeter.ac.uk