Police had to 'protect protesters' -- former officer

(Photo: Lisa Owen / Newshub.)
(Photo: Lisa Owen / Newshub.)

Police battling Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) protesters in Auckland yesterday had no choice but to rough up demonstrators, says one former top cop.

Lance Burdett, a former police negotiator and detective, says police's manhandling of demonstrators -- which mainly took place after a small group tried to block the entrance to the city's motorway -- was done for the "benefit of the protesters".

"Running on to the motorway, I know there'll be a lot of drivers in Auckland who would just keep driving and wouldn't care about them, so [police] really have to protect the protesters," Mr Burdett told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

The thousands-strong protest was sparked by the signing of the TPP agreement, which was held in Auckland yesterday.

Trade Ministers from 12 Pacific Rim countries attended the ceremonial signing, at Auckland's SkyCity Convention Centre.

Photos from the protest showed police pulling people's hair and roughly pushing demonstrators, but Mr Burdett says they had no choice when a small break-away group sat on the road and linked arms, refusing to move.

"It's a bit of an irony when cops just want to be there to do their job and they don't mind seeing protests but when you start blocking motorways and putting yourself in danger then police are put in the position where they do actually have to step in for your own benefit, for your own safety."

He says all in all the police did a good job and dealing with protesters is just another part of what they have to do.

"Police train for these types of things all the time, but what I did note is that there was a lot of officers brought from across Auckland and probably from around the country to come to this, to police. And to come together like they did the contingency planning that they had was exceptional.

"Most of the action, if you like, which looked like very poor policing was with the group that was in the most danger. Get them out of there, because what happens is the other group come in behind it when they see that and it just escalates out of control very, very quickly."

He says most protests are made of three groups of people - "the first one is the 'usuals', we call them [that because] they're there all the time no matter what the protest is. Generally they're peaceful," says Mr Burdett.

The next group is "Joe Public", people who are doing it for "genuine reasons and want to be there and show support for the protest group".

But the third group, says Mr Burdett, is the "trouble makers".

"They're the ones that police have to jump on very quickly. They just go there for a fight. They just go there to cause disruption; they just go there to do as much damage as they can do in a short as possible time."

Watch the video for the full interview with Lance Burdett.