Project Servator is a method of policing originally introduced by the City of London Police in 2014. Project Servator is a series of policing tactics aiming to ‘detect and deter’ criminal activity through placing police officers in highly visible areas such as city centres, transport hubs and large scale public events such as COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 (Gov.UK, 2021). Many police officers are uniformed, in some cases they are on horses and occasionally they are armed.
The stated aim of Project Servator is not only to deter criminal activity but also to promote community engagement. Members of the public are actively encouraged to talk to officers, to create a ‘system of surveillance’ and to ‘reassure the public’ to report anything suspicious. Project Servator also utilises social media to promote where officers are, and their operations, and to display police engagement within the community.
Since 2014, Project Servator has been adopted by many police departments around the UK including the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police, and this model has also started to spread abroad with the New South Wales Police in Australia also adopting this tactic.
The British Transport Police have claimed that due to Project Servator there have been 650 arrests since 2015, which have included those possessing knives and drugs and wanted criminals.
Project Servator has not been without controversy, despite the aim for public inclusion. Project Servator has come under increased scrutiny in the past couple of years due to accusations of police harassment and intimidation. In 2021, following protests at the G7 Summit in Cornwall activists from Ocean Rebellion in Cornwall accused officers of using heavy handed techniques, after founder and climate activist Rob Higgs had his home and workshop searched by police without a warrant, and his neighbours were questioned and he was called a ‘person of interest’ (Vice, 2021). In an open letter to the Greater Manchester Police by members of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, they criticised Project Servator operations in Manchester city centres for treating those who did not want to engage with leafleting officers as a ‘cause for concern’ (N-Police Monitor, 2019).
Project Servator has claimed to deploy specialist trained officers to identify the ‘tell-tale’ signs that someone is planning to commit a crime. Limited information exists explaining what these signs are, or the types of ‘specialist’ training officers receive.
It is clear that more scrutiny and information about Project Servator needs to be conducted. Whilst the aim of making communities feel safer and potentially stopping illegal activity is good, it is important that this does not come at the expense of the rights of communities to protest. It is also crucial that there is still accountability of the police, so they cannot use intimidating tactics on innocent people.