It's understandable that many people have questions about the policing of the events at the weekend.

However, whether it’s the anonymous empowerment of Twitter or because of the insatiable appetite for their nonsense crime dramas, nobody seems to know policing better than the cadre of ‘Armchair Commanders’ who chose to assert their views on social media at the weekend.

Forget the centuries of experience and knowledge in the Police Command Suites, in the Control rooms and on the streets. “I once watched Shetland so I know how to police” was pretty the summary of their posts.

Policing is a complex business. When society entrusts officers with powers to deprive people of their liberty, to prevent citizens from going places or to enact the law, a complex assessment of risks and outcomes have to be considered. Whether this is a response police officer deciding whether to arrest somebody, a detective assessing the vulnerability of a victim, or a traffic cop deciding whether to pursue a stolen vehicle, we are accountable for our all actions, and all our inactions.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon condemns 'disgraceful'’ scenes as Rangers fans flout Covid restrictions

In recognition of the responsibility that comes with statutory powers, our new recruits begin their training with human rights training and the National Decision Making Model - a tool that assists officers to continuously review, consider and act on what can be lifechanging situations for people.

Specialist policing, firearms and public order are however the most sensitive variables in this equation, where the risks of getting it wrong can be catastrophic. It requires the police to consider the strategic outcomes, to adapt, to be agile in escalation- and more importantly de-escalation. 


On Sunday night, social media erupted in rightful fury at the selfish behaviour of thousands of Rangers fans as they wilfully ignored Covid laws to celebrate their team's victory. But as short-clips of their behaviour began to appear on the internet the finger of blame was suddenly pointed at the police for their apparent “inaction”. But when challenged to suggest an alternative policing approach, that’s where the Armchair Commanders came into their own.

“Water cannon them”. “Water cannon them with disinfectant”. “Let them into the stadium and keep them there until they give their names to track and trace”. “Arrest them all”. “Put up roadblocks to keep them out the city”. “Arrest known protagonists from their houses”.

And there was I thinking we lived in Scotland not North Korea.

What nobody seemed to grasp though was the bigger picture. Police officers were vastly outnumbered. This was primarily a Public Order incident and once started, it was about trying to nudge it intelligently, judging the mood and taking the least worst option. A successful public order operation should be an anti-climax.

READ MORE: John Swinney: 'Silence from Rangers deafening' over fans' title celebrations

Calls to give everyone (men, women and children) tickets were as impractical as arresting them all and tough enforcement always “up’s the ante”. Whilst the mood was generally jovial, police officers were still assaulted, and I know there were concerns that the situation could escalate.

Another source of criticism was the escort of hundreds of fans into the city centre. The commanders would likely have been faced with a choice of fans swarming along many different roads to the city centre, or putting in place a controlled safe escort for the safety of fans and other road users. Surely that’s not a hard choice?

Thousands of people broke the law at the weekend, including all those fans in Glasgow. It was disgraceful, selfish and dangerous but the zero-tolerance approach demanded by so many ‘Armchair Commanders’ would have led to more violence, many more injuries and would have destroyed the legitimacy of that kernel of law enforcement, “policing by consent”. Yes, even on TV’s ‘Shetland’.

David Hamilton is the chair of the Scottish Police Federation.