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UK Police Watchdog Report: Shooting Would-be Arsonists During a Riot Should Be Considered

Posted on the 21 December 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
UK police watchdog report: Shooting would-be arsonists during a riot should be considered

Riots on the streets of Tottenham. Photo credit: Nico Hogg,

Police officers should consider using live ammunition to halt attacks on buildings where lives may be at risk from arson. That’s according to a hard-hitting report from the UK’s police watchdog, which has said that most police forces were not well-prepared for the “widespread, fast-moving and opportunistic criminal attacks on property” seen in English cities last August.

The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, commissioned by the Home Secretary, said water cannon and plastic bullets should be used during future riots if “extraordinary measures” are needed. The recommendations, which will studied by the government, have sharply divided the commentariat.

‘Limp-wristed policing’ was to blame for August’s riots getting out of hand. Writing at The Daily Mail’s Right Minds comment hub, Nick Wood backed the proposals to toughen up policing tactics. However, he argued that the problem with policing runs deeper than a mere lack of ability to turn to “high-powered weaponry” when the going gets tough. He laid much of the blame for the riots can be attributed to the “spineless response by the police” who “watched as the mob ran amok, only occasionally making feeble forays into the crowds.” Wood argued that the police could have “nipped in the bud the disgraceful and criminal scenes in Tottenham” and thereby reducing “the danger of copycat outrages” had then basically, ‘manned up’ earlier on. Turning to why the police failed to keep the peace, he insisted that “the truth is that the police, like so many institutions today, have lost confidence in themselves. Once they would act instinctively, backing their own judgment when faced with a life-threatening danger … Now they shelter behind rule books, process, health and safety and risk assessments. In many cases they are little more than uniformed bureaucrats.” Wood concluded that “no amount of high-powered weaponry or greater police manpower will do any good until the police, and especially the suits that control them, regain their self belief and take responsibility for making the maintenance of law and order their first priority.”

Resist these paramilitary tactics. An editorial in The Daily Mirror described the proposals as “bang out of order.” The left-leaning tabloid argued that “flooding the streets” with “well-organised police in a show of force quelled the summer riots in England, after the boys and girls in blue were caught on the hop. Officers ended the arson, looting and violence armed with truncheons and shields, backed up by community leaders who appealed for calm. So building on that response, while tackling potential causes, is the way forward. Not the dangerous, reactionary suggestions from the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary about what could happen in future.” The Mirror insisted that shooting rioters would be “wholly disproportionate, another step down the rocky road to an armed police force.” It said that while using rubber bullets and water cannon “may play to the gallery but the hard lessons of Northern Ireland teach us that they, too, are counter-productive.” The paper concluded that “paramilitary tactics should be resisted” and reminded that “the trouble in Tottenham, which sparked the national riots, was triggered by a fatal shooting.”

More on the August riots

  • Rioters wanted ‘buzz’, free stuff
  • Is Britain broken?
  • 9 months pregnant, watching London burn
  • This is not freedom
  • 6 good responses to the riots

More crime and punishment »

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