Posts Tagged 'disorder'

One time and one time only…

A year on from the August Riots the canteen at the station is a much more peaceful place – what perspective has the year put on the disorders though?

A year ago this week officers from Walsall, from Birmingham, London and across the country found themselves in the midst of some of the worst rioting seen in England for years.

The destruction seemed wholesale, the rioters shockingly ambitious and at the same time random in their choice of victims. Images of police lines stretched across a blazing skyline shot across the world, leaving in their wake tough questions about how the riots had come to be.

Writing now, a year on, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since those three days in August.

Repairs to the stricken areas continue, buildings have been torn down and the empty gaps they’ve left stand as a stark reminder of what can happen when the perception spreads that law and order has broken down.

I can’t claim to have played a particularly important role in the riots myself. I wasn’t one of the officers charging past broken shops near the Bullring, nor was I stood watching the Carpetright shop engulfed by a firestorm in Haringey.

Instead I was one of the many officers working extended shifts to restore the impression that the law still stood, that those who had come to riot would face the consequences and that the public ought not be panicked by what they saw each night on the news.

Looking back, what stood out to me at the time and what still stands today is the impression that whilst the rioters seemed to enjoy a fleeting taste of the upper hand, the police and other emergency services reacted and adapted with a professionalism that was nothing short of inspiring.

Rest days were cancelled, officers found themselves in unfamiliar situations and faced people on the streets who appeared set upon harming them by any means possible.

Faced with such apparent hatred the officers I worked alongside didn’t buckle, didn’t hesitate – instead they volunteered to work on, shift after shift in unimaginable situations and without a word of complaint.

To me the riots were particularly disturbing owing to the suddenness with which they took hold.

Riots, I’d always thought, would be prefaced by a period of visible tension, by rising discontent leading to a tipping point at which tensions boiled over and barricades sprung up.

A great deal of work has been done investigating the cause of the riots, notably through the Guardian and LSE’s collaborative project Reading The Riots, with various reasons raised by the rioters themselves in attempts to explain why they had taken to the streets.

Frustration at the use of Stop & Search powers in some areas has been floated as one reason and as a contributor; an argument could be made that these frustrations represent the preface I’d have expected with shooting of Mark Duggan representing the tipping point.

Sensible use of stop powers allied with better communication with the affected communities seem to be the way forward to address perceptions of frustration, and indeed forces across the country have already done a great deal of work to bridge divides.

Other explanations have looked towards gangs, social media and simple opportunism, the latter of which I think seems the most convincing explanation for why people, sometimes even those with no criminal background, found their way to the trouble spots and began to loot.

A year’s hindsight has suggested to me that whatever the cause of the original riots in Tottenham, the disorders that followed were able to take place because the idea had taken hold that ‘everyone was at it’, that the opportunity had unexpectedly presented itself to loot with impunity and that this, for some, was an opportunity that could not be missed.

As for why the riots came to a close, officers being made available in large numbers through Mutual Aid, some 16,000 in London alone, now appears to have been the principle deterrent to those thinking of returning to the streets for another night of disorder.

Proposed cuts to police numbers in this respect need to keep this in view – financial circumstances make cuts necessary but not at the expense of our ability to raise large numbers should the need arise.

The tragic deaths of the three men on Dudley Road, Birmingham, similarly arrested the further development of the riots, accompanied as they were by the impassioned appeal for calm of Tariq Jahan, father of one of those lost.

The riots, already sinister in tone, had taken on a direction that even those originally enthusiastic about the looting seemed reluctant to follow.

A year seems like a long time but as I’ve said, looking back it’s hard to believe that twelve months now stand between today and those chaotic, hellish scenes.

The need to maintain a visible, believable presence, alongside an ability to rapidly respond to incidents before they are able to escalate, will likely be the key elements in preventing a repeat of history and I think are some of the most important considerations to take from the riots.

Whilst the riots thankfully reached their conclusion after a few long days, a conclusion is yet to be reached on their legacy, with this anniversary reminding us that time does not heal all wounds.

The IPCC, for example, is yet to report on Mark Duggan’s death and investigations are ongoing to identify outstanding rioters with Operation View still yielding results in the West Midlands.

We have the flexibility in our structure and the quality in our people to deal with situations such as those seen during last August.

The real measure of our response to the riots will come not on this anniversary but in ten, twenty or thirty years time – should those decades pass without a repeat of the 2011 riots then we’ll know the steps we took away from Tottenham were steps taken in the right direction.

Olympics update – apologies for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks, I’d been down in London helping Lord Coe out at the games. I’m looking at putting a blog together about the experience of living and working in the capital just as soon as the games themselves draw to a close – highlights include the torch relay, Team USA and Wimbledon so stay tuned!.

One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)…

What caused the loud boom heard in Coventry yesterday? UFO? Sound barrier being broken? More importantly, how are the emergency services meant to know?

Yesterday two interesting things happened. First of all there was a loud ‘explosion’ heard across Coventry. Shortly afterwards we began to receive calls asking what it was. This made me think, when something odd happens why do people think first of all to call the police and secondly, how do they think we’ll know what’s going on?

To start off with I do not mean to criticise anyone who did phone us – a loud explosion is exactly the sort of thing we need to know about and the quicker we are aware, the quicker we can respond.

What I’m curious about is what makes people think that the authorities do know what’s going on at all times? I’m curious because being part of those authorities, I know that it’s not always the case that we do.

Take yesterday’s incident as an example – we would have received calls from across a wide region informing us that a large bang had just been heard. We know now that it was actually a sonic boom but at the time we’d have no way of knowing this. The information we would have to work on is that somewhere something has produced a loud enough thunder crack to concern a great number of people.

What could it be though? Put simply, beyond waiting for a call from a panicked site manager or someone similar to say that his fuel storage depot has gone up in flames, understandably we’d be struggling to join the dots.

I think before joining the police I had the same impression of the emergency services and the authorities – whatever the situation there’d be an expert and a plan. Raining fish? We’d know what the cause was and where they’d come from. UFO landing on the roof of the New Art Gallery? NORAD would be on the line for an update.

Truth be told, it’s not really like this. We have to work with limited, sometimes patchy information and are often required to improvise solutions on the spot. As so much of our work can’t be predicted, we can only prepare in a general sense.

I know, for example, that we have plans in place should we need to evacuate town centres and have arrangements with the council to commandeer facilities should we need them as aid stations but such arrangements only represent the first steps of dealing with a major incident.

Likewise with our human resources, we have on call around the clock hostage negotiators, NBC trained officers and others trained with all sorts of weird and wonderful skills. As to who gets called and where they get sent when a tornado whips through Tipton, it’s very much up to the senior officers in the control rooms to get a grip of the situation and call the shots.

Coming back to Coventry, even were some quick thinking control room staff member to have made an enquiry with the the MOD, I imagine there’d likely be a delay in the information filtering through. Unlike the shock wave, information that fighters have been scrambled will not spread quickly within the MOD itself with there almost certainly being a long delay before it reaches their press office and then out into the public domain.

I guess part of the perception that we are in a position to deal with any emergency comes from the fact that as an emergency service, we have lots of experience in dealing with said emergencies and so we become practiced at doing so. Some people may not know what to do after a car crash or what to turn when their house is flooding – we do because we deal with similar calls all the time.

Another explanation is that it’s reassuring to think that there’s always someone who knows what’s going on. I’m as much of this mindset as anyone else, even though I do represent ‘the man’ and should know better. I’m happy to assume that brainy government scientists have a plan and a cure for the latest outbreak of the Ebola Virus and that when the machines become self-aware, there are stop checks in place to ensure that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life dodging Terminators amongst the ruins of Walsall.

The problem of not always having the answers to hand aside, what’s important is that we are able to take steps to collate information and reassure the public who have been calling asking the same questions that we’re likely to be asking ourselves. We don’t have all the answers, but then who does?

P.S. I had an interesting chat with some of my followers on Twitter last night about what had caused the boom. They were less convinced by the MOD’s claim that it was a RAF Typhoon doing their own version of a police ‘immediate’ response. Popular theories involved UFOs and Elvis. My own thoughts are that if it was a MOD cover up, it was probably a top secret test for the Aurora Spy Plane – the truth is out there, people!

Autumn is come to my hometown…

As seen from the Chester Road, the Autumn sun rising on Tuesday morning. Photo taken by Brownhills Bob, please click above to see his excellent Brownhills Blog.

First of all, with us still hanging on to the last few hours of August I’m a little uncomfortable with heralding the coming of Autumn however it seems I’m one of the few who are of this opinion and so here we are, a quick blog looking back over the past few months and ahead to the future.

When I mention the ‘past few months’, I’m thinking of little else than the disorder we saw in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich. Sure, I could mention the occasional sunny day that represented the slim efforts of this year’s Summer but they were completely overshadowed by the events of those few days in August.

Nobody could have seen it coming and we as a force, along with forces up and down the country, had to rapidly adapt to the situation and take the steps necessary to quell the disorder and restore peace to the streets. Public support was crucial to our success and meant the world to the officers who were out in the riot vans, in the operation centres and performing a thousand other less visible but still crucial roles.

We’re currently in the process of reviewing our response to the disorders and are working our way towards compiling a report that will be presented to the Chief Constable highlighting both developmental issues and the many examples of good practice that came to light.

We’ve been particularly keen to look at the role played by social media – something new to the force in the context of such a major operation – and work out how we could better engage with the public through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc.

The coming months will see the nights drawing in, temperatures dropping and the force facing a range of demands, some of which we know about and some we don’t. As Donald Rumsfeld would say, “Things we don’t know we don’t know”.

Some of the ‘known knowns’ include the major operation to police the coming Liberal Democrat Conference, keeping up the pressure on robberies through Serve & Protect and concentrating on the rise in burglaries that longer nights can sometimes foster.

Remembering back to the complications caused by last year’s severe Winter, we’ll be better prepared to maintain our service if the snow sets in again with resources managed more effectively and officers remembering their wooly hats and mittens.

As for the unknowns, the hardest part of policing has always been working out how to prepare for the major incident – the plane crash, murder, or disorder – of which we have no prior warning and that we only become aware of when a panicked 999 call is received by our control room. As we always have done and always will do, we’re constantly reflecting on our service and on the opportunities available to make improvements.

The last month has been interesting to say the least, the coming months will be exciting and no doubt challenging too. As one season slides away and another takes its place we’ll continue to do what we all joined to do – serving our communities and protecting them from harm.

Cause in sleepy London town there’s no place for a street fighting man…

Police lines standing firm in Tottenham (Image from BBC/PA)

I’m writing this post as both a serving police officer and also a former London resident outraged in both respects at the inexcusable discharge of violence seen last night in Tottenham.

Reports are still coming in with the press, police and other agencies doing their best to sift through the debris to establish what happened and why.

What is clear though is that at time of writing, twenty-six police officers have been injured and two are hospitalised. Numerous shops have been ransacked, vehicles destroyed and many innocent people’s homes gutted by fire.

Furthermore what is clear is that what apparently started as a small, peaceful demonstration outside a police station was soon hijacked by a criminal minority who chose to use as cover tensions over recent events in the capital to commit large scale disorder that have led locals observing the aftermath to liken it to the Blitz.

Each and every police officer, fireman and paramedic sent the to the scene last night has a family. They work long hours in roles that are often unpleasant and do so because they joined their jobs with one thing in mind – to protect the public.

That a band of hooligans saw fit to turn on officers and turn on the residents of Tottenham itself says nothing about ‘community tensions’ – it shows only that a small group of people decided to exploit the opportunity to cause a great deal of illegal, totally senseless chaos.

They weren’t representing the communities of Tottenham, weren’t representing London and certainly were not ‘protesters’ in any sense of the word.

I was glad to read in the Met’s press release that forty two people have been arrested so far in connection with the riots. Here’s hoping that many more arrests will follow…

You can follow developments around this story both through the BBC News website and also by visiting the Met’s News & Appeals page. For news on the shooting of Mark Duggan both of the aforementioned sources can be consulted as can the Independent Police Complaints Commission who have been asked to investigate the incident.

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