Whenever a campaign over an issue that divides society has spilled onto the streets in mass action, it has led to debate whether the police response is proportionate and appropriate. With the troubles on our city's streets now in their fifth week, police find it difficult to strike a balance between free speech and public order that satisfies all. Now a spirited and concerted defence of the force's performance has emerged in media coverage. This follows incidents that raised questions about the city's reputation for peaceful protest and tolerance, such as telecast video of plain-clothes officers taking away and assaulting a protester, and a telephone message threatening physical harm to the daughter of a front-line police officer. Both incidents are to be condemned as unacceptable. More recently, journalist groups have demanded immediate action from the police commissioner after four more colleagues were assaulted at an anti-Occupy Central rally over the weekend, bringing the number who have faced various attacks to 24. The journalists' association has rightly condemned them as attacks on our core value of press freedom. We trust the police will stand by a pledge to take impartial enforcement action. That said, the police have generally acquitted themselves well in a difficult situation. They have been caught in the middle between illegal civil disobedience over a political issue and a government that will not yield. Unlike the protagonists, they have no choice but to be there. They are sworn to uphold and enforce the law. However lofty the ideals of the protesters, they are breaking the law. To be sure, the issue is not black and white. Police may have been following orders in using tear gas weeks ago, but it was controversial. However, the fact it is now perceived that there is a need to rally support for a force with a widely envied reputation shows the pressure they are under. READ MORE: To view all the latest Occupy Central stories click here Regrettably, much of the verbal abuse and other offensive behaviour to which police have been subject has been gratuitous, and adds to the psychological stress of civil confrontation. One clip of a video released yesterday by the security minister, showing protesters using foul language, is evidence of that. It is well documented that the authorities in other jurisdictions that enshrine free speech would have ordered tougher action by now. In the circumstances, our police deserve credit for professional restraint and discipline.