Thursday, 11 August 2011

Not a good week for police leadership

We all watched numb and speechless as looters rampaged through the high streets of London, Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere. And we rightly condemn those looters and say that there are no excuses for their behaviour - rioting is the responsibility of the rioter, no-one makes them do it.

But, like others, I was struck by the supine response of the police on the street. A response succinctly described by David Davis:

The single thing that has most astonished the British public was the sight of rows of heavily equipped police officers standing by whilst rioters and looters engaged in brazen acts of vandalism, arson and theft. A police officer called to the scene of a bank robbery would not park across the street and wait patiently for it to finish, so why were the Met’s riot police little more than spectators during the looting? 

We watched reports of the Wolverhampton hairdresser protecting her shop and confronting looters - while police stood by and watched. Yet the full order of riot police were deployed to respond to deal with 'vigilantes':

"...more than 1,000 officers battled with dozens of middle-aged men on the streets Eltham, south-east London."

More than 1000 police to deal with sixty men some of who appear to have committed the heinous crime or drinking some beer and singing "we love England". But police bosses really don't get it - those men, whether from the EDL or not - weren't about to riot, smash up shops or loot. It could have been handled with fifty coppers. But then the police don't like local people looking out for their own community, especially when those local people are white, male and working-class. And the top policemen still don't get it:

He said it was “ironic” that media pictures showed looting in areas where there were “no police available” while officers were being diverted to stop vigilantes elsewhere. 

Got that? The police deemed it more important to send 1000 officers to handle 200 men in Eltham who weren't looting or rioting than to send officers to deal with the actual looting? We'd watched the day before as the police ignored looting, standing mutely - clearly frustrated - because their senior officers were too scared to confront the rioters properly.

And who were those 'vigilantes' - here's a description from Enfield where 300 men took to the high street to defend their community:

On the train to Enfield, I had been reading dozens of tweets claiming the anti-riot patrol was a front for far-right organisations and an excuse for racist chants and violence. The reality was nothing of the sort. There were no weapons being carried and no violence erupted at all. Yes, the majority of people there were white and working class, but there was also a range of people from different ethnic backgrounds. Indeed I found, if anything, people on the patrol were overly awkward about the fact they were white. One guy told me he had been worried he'd be seen as a racist by taking part: 'There's no getting around the fact that a lot of the rioters are black,' he told me, 'but you can't just do nothing just in case someone calls you a racist.'

These are the people the Metropolitan Police leadership "can do without". Ordinary men with the gumption to protect their streets to act in the interests of their community - condemned for doing so by the leadership of our police.

This has to change. We can't allow the police leadership to fail us as they did on Monday night. As David Davis points out - amidst all the furore about police cuts - that there are more police officers employed today than at any time in our history. Which begs a question - where on earth were they all on Monday night?

We've always been told - as politicians - that we should have no say over the police's "operational decisions", yet we know that the decision-making by the Metropolitan Police over the past few days has been risible. And the leadership of the force should therefore be accountable - it was their decision-making that was wrong. It was not - in proximate terms - the fault of politicians.

When we had riots in Bradford, I didn't feel let down by the police - despite the poor tactics on the night. Lots of brave men and women faced a very angry situation and hundreds were injured. I suspect that many people in places hit by looters felt let down by the police. Certainly, we don't pay thousands in personal and business taxes to pay for a police force that doesn't protect us.

If one change comes from all this it must be a more accountable, more local police force. We have to move away from ever larger forces, from concentration of operations into huge, impersonal barracks and from the disconnection between the police and the communities they serve. This isn't about political control of the police - although elected police commissioners will be welcome - but about the police being of and from the community. Not "community policing" as some form of operational tactic but a real community police force - one that would welcome people who stand up for their community and not treat them as unwanted "vigilantes".


1 comment:

Captain Ranty said...


This stood out for me:

"Certainly, we don't pay thousands in personal and business taxes to pay for a police force that doesn't protect us."

I have been trying to tell people for over two years now that the police are not there to protect us, the public.

Read the Oath of Constable. Then read it again, becuase your jaw will drop.

They do not swear an oath to protect us, or businesses: they swear to protect the Crown.

We are not the Crown.

That may explain why they did nothing.