FAQ: The Role of Police Liaison


  • Police Liaison refers to a person designated by an organization or action to be a communicator between a protestors and police
  • Community/Event Liaison is the term the police use for an officer designated to act as the communicator between protests and police

What is a police liaison?

A police liaison is someone chosen by the organizers of an action to act as the interface between the organizers and the police/security services.

Why do actions/demonstrations sometimes have designated police liaisons?

Designated police liaisons can help make an action effective by:

  • Shielding organizers from being easily targeted by police
  • Allowing organizers to focus on decision-making related to the action, rather than having their attention taken up by the police
  • Without designated police liaisons, police will still attempt to find a communication point with the protestors, so this role can sometimes occur in a disorganized, informal fashion anyway, leading to confusion and frustration.

Do all protests have police liaisons?

No. There is no requirement to have a police liaison, and many effective protests take place without anyone in this role. In some cases, this is a deliberate decision by the event organizers, who may view police as an obstacle to justice who should not be communicated with at all.

In our experience, most larger demonstrations in Ottawa typically do have at least one or two people in this role.

What does a police liaison do?

A police liaison:

  • Transmits information from the organizers to the police, and vice versa
  • Informs the police/security services there are concerns about how they are policing the action

What does a police liaison not do?

A police liaison does not:

  • Provide information to the police/security services that has not been approved by the organizers of the action
  • Give direction to protestors
  • Participate directly in organizing or decision-making
  • Interfere with the action/demonstration
  • Act as a marshal or legal observer
  • Intervene if someone is being arrested
  • Speak to the media

How do you do the work of a police liaison?

Ideally, police liaisons always work in pairs, though one person can take lead on any given conversation. Whenever possible, no one should have to talk to the police alone. This ensures there is always a witness to any interaction with the police.

Police liaisons usually cycle back and forth between the organizers and the police, relaying information as needed.

While you will need to float around a bit during the action, it’s usually best to always keep the cop-side liaisons within sight.

What cops do police liaisons actually talk to?

The police/security services will have their own designated Community or Event Liaisons, usually wearing distinctive vests and flair marking them as liaisons. This is who you will largely interact with.

Try to keep a neutral attitude when dealing with the police. Being courteous and polite can help ensure they’re still willing to engage with you. But we are not there to make friends with the police.

The Ottawa Police Service Community Liaisons generally wear blue vests over their uniforms. There are always at least two of them, and they generally stick together.

The Good Vs. Bad Protestor Line and Other Cop Tactics

Police will very often set up a dichotomy where they’re there to “protect” the protest from the “bad protestors” and try to position the action’s liaison’s on their side as “good protestors.” They will use this as a way to try and get additional information out of you. Just ignore this; we’re on the side of struggle.

Also, as a general rule, don’t overestimate your ability to outfox the cops. Their liaisons are trained in dealing with protestors, in getting information out of people, and pressuring community groups to modify or cancel their action plans. Stick to the information you’ve been authorised to relay to the police and share nothing else.

Some general tips and pointers for police liaisons include:

  • Go to any marshall, legal observer training, or general meeting about the action and have the organizers introduce you as the police liaison
  • During the action, wear something that visibly indicates that you are a police liaison for the action (ie. a reflective vest, a patch, an arm band). Agree on this before had, so that organizers can tell people who you are and will be able to find you more easily
  • Make sure you know how the organizers want to communicate with you, and have the tools you need to do that. Are they using Signal? Calling you on the phone directly? Will they send runners?

The Most Useful Thing You Can Say to the Cops As a Police Liaison

The cops will often ask you for information or details on what’s happening. Unless you’ve been authorized by the organizers to share information, the best thing you can say is: “We don’t know, but we can go ask.”

Not only does this ensure you aren’t relaying information you shouldn’t, it also buys the action more time to be effective.