Posts Tagged 'riots'

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!.

Speaking words of wisdom…

Last week I sat down for an interview at Walsall Police Station. As this is something that I do frequently you’d be forgiven for thinking that in itself, this is nothing particularly interesting.

What set this interview apart was that rather than asking the questions I was on the receiving end. I was sat in one of the interview rooms at the station answering questions about criminal activity in the Walsall area. What exactly was going on?

Well, I had agreed to meet Dean Hill from the WS5 Blog who wanted to speak to me about what my role involves, what I do on a day to day basis and how people can best avoid becoming a victim of crime.

For anyone who’s not seen the WS5 Blog it’s well worth checking out, especially if you live in the Bescot, Tame Bridge or Yew Tree areas of Walsall. It’s what fashionable media types call a ‘hyperlocal‘ blog as it focuses exclusively on a small geographical area and is written for the benefit of the people living in, or concerned with, that area. It’s running along similar lines to Brownhills Bob’s very popular Brownhills Blog which too is well worth a look, even if you don’t live in Brownhills.

My chat with Dean was scheduled to last around half an hour but in the end actually ran to over an hour and a half, such is my ability to waffle on about crime and policing! Dean has recorded the interview and uploaded it to his SoundCloud profile, thankfully editing it into bite size chunks for easier listening.

Without further delay* then, here is the interview for your listening pleasure!

Part 1What does a response officer do?

Part 2What does a typical day consist of?

Part 3How does social media help policing?

Part 4Current issues and objectives leading up to Christmas

Part 5Are cuts impacting policing over the Christmas period?

Part 6What are we doing to tackle metal thefts?

Part 7How can I keep my house and car safe over Christmas?

Part 8Christmas drink drive campaign and what happens after being stopped for drunk driving

Part 9How West Midlands Police are looking to reduce anti-social behaviour over Christmas

Part 10Neighbourhood Watch and how people can get involved with the work of the police

Part 11Reporting crime via Crimestoppers

Part 12Policing during the August Riots

Part 13How to beat bogus callers

If interviews like this are something that you’d like to see us doing more often then please let us know as I felt it was very worthwhile and would be happy to look at doing something similar again in the future.

Thanks again to Dean for taking the time to come down and talk with me and again, I’d encourage you to take a look at the WS5 Blog and its Twitter stream if you’re interested in learning more about what is happening in the Bescot area.

* You may experience further delay if you’re reading this blog on a phone made by a popular type of fruit and it decides it doesn’t fancy displaying Flash content. If the sound files don’t load above or are a little slow please try looking at this page on your desktop computer or instead go direct to Dean’s SoundCloud profile and try there.

Did you see the stylish kids in the riot? Shovelled up like muck, set the night on fire…

Do you remember the riots back in August? Well, we do. Rather well in fact.

Thanks to this fantastic memory of ours, coupled with hours of CCTV footage and a huge investigation assisted by yourselves, the good public, we’re still actively out arresting those involved and bringing them to justice.

New images are being added to the Operation View website and I’d encourage you to cast your eye over the gallery and see if you recognise any of the outstanding offenders. We’ll then be able to pay a friendly visit to them, as you can see us doing in the above video, and see whether we can’t find them a Christmas break courtesy of Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

You can get in touch with us directly by dialing 101 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

As an incentive to make the call you can also see some of the rioters’ court results on the Operation View website. You’ll notice the large number of custodial sentences handed out, in many cases thanks to public help in identifying offenders.

I’m thinkin’ about my doorbell, when ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it?

The above is a short video with some words from our head honcho, Chris Sims, about the ongoing efforts that we’re making to sweep up outstanding offenders from the August riots.

We’ve already made a large number of arrests and put many guilty persons before the courts and then behind bars. Images of those persons involved but not yet located are sitting on the Operation View website and you’re able to take a gander at them and then give us a call if you recognise anyone.

As the Chief said, much of the success we’ve experienced so far has come about through help from the public and your input is vital to catching the few not yet collared by our long, long arms.

Anyone with any information about those involved in the disorder should call West Midlands Police on 0345 113 5000 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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.

It’s all over now, Baby Blue…

My 'Dedication' pic - 39,000 something views, over 2000 retweets, picked up by Sky News, ITV, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Express & Star to name a few...

Whilst I’m writing this, many officers across the West Midlands and further afield are slowly returning to normality after the tumultuous days of the previous week.

As the pic above shows, the shifts we’ve worked have been long, they’ve been tiring and demanding but at the same time have been necessary. Our job is to serve the public and when such an extraordinary set of circumstances arises, we are compelled to do all we can to return a sense of order to the streets.

When I talk about ‘normality’ of course, I guess it’s important to recognise that when it comes to the job of a police officer, there’s really no such thing.

‘Normality’ for officers in Walsall yesterday meant dealing with a major factory fire in the centre of the town. Normality meant the helicopter hovering overhead as units rushed around sealing off roads, evacuating houses and us looking like fluorescent windmills as we directed traffic around the scene of the incident.

I’d said earlier in the week how important the support of the public has been in helping officers through the longer shifts and giving us that extra boost when we reached four in the morning having worked however many hours and upon trying to write a statement, felt so tired that the words on the paper appeared to jump out of order and dance around the room.

The level of support that we’ve received, particularly through the social media sites, has in my experience been quite unprecedented and through my Twitter account alone I’ve read hundreds upon hundreds of messages wishing us well and congratulating us for our work.

I’ve been making sure that these messages find their way to the officers who are not quite as technically minded as myself and am really struggling to put into writing how much they’ve meant to us or what a difference it makes to know that whilst a small band of hoodlums have been out causing trouble, the vast majority of the public have been as shocked as we were at the scale of the disorder.

From talking to people whilst we’ve been out on foot patrols it is clear that this support is evenly distributed and there have been some superb acts of kindness shown by the public, locally with biscuits being dropped in at Willenhall Police Station and some rather delicious cakes finding their way to the nick at Walsall.

Of course from one point of view, the title of this blog is a little misleading (sorry Bob) as yes, whilst police officers are slowly resuming their normal duties, a wider discussion is now taking place on the cause of the riots and how to prevent their re-occurrence. We’re looking at ‘Broken Britain’, enhanced policing powers and importing super cops. Whilst the disorders have subsided, they were symptoms of a wider disease and it is the disease itself that needs a cure.

In addition to this discussion, efforts to identify and prosecute those sophisticated criminals who took part in the looting are ongoing with Operation View in the West Midlands now well established and yielding successes on a daily basis.

Eight days ago I don’t imagine anyone could have predicted how the rest of the week would have panned out. This is the nature of policing though, the unpredictability is something we’re used to but this isn’t to say that makes it any easier to deal with. What has helped though is your support, support that’ll not be readily forgotten.

There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt…

The above is another shortish (well, seven minute long) video from our head honcho, West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims. I think the key quote to have come from our Chief over the past couple of days has been that those involved in the riots have been ‘not an angry crowd, but a greedy crowd’.

This pretty much says it all – there’s no political reason for burning down somebody’s home, smashing up somebody’s livelihood or robbing an injured person in broad daylight.

For many reasons it has been – and continues to be – an absolutely fascinating time to be a bobby and yesterday’s shift was no exception. I’d spent twelve hours on foot, walking around the centre of Walsall and chatting to anyone and everyone who fancied a chin wag.

There were no problems at all and as photos I uploaded showed, if anything it was actually quieter than usual. I understand this was the case across the rest of the West Midlands too.

Not having to chase masked hoodlums around whilst blowing my police whistle and yelling “Stop in the name of the law!”, I had the time to engage with people both face to face and through the social media, particularly my Twitter feed.

In both respects the support shown by the general public has been absolutely incredible and will be the subject of its own blog as and when I get the chance to sit and write something that sums up how much it meant to us all – not something that I feel will be easy to do.

I’d spent a lot of the afternoon popping into shops to speak to staff and also talking to shoppers making their way around the town. Positive feedback for what we were doing was unanimous and nothing short of inspiring. ‘There’s been no trouble in Walsall and that’s because the police have acted so quickly, thank you’.

This message was repeated over and over and means a great deal to us, it really does.

To top it all off, I received an invite through Twitter to drop into the Mayor’s Parlour at the town hall and on doing so, was not only thanked by the Mayor but also by the over fifties group visiting him at the time who all applauded us.

For the social media side, I’ve not been able to keep up with the hundreds and hundreds of messages of support that I’ve been sent through Twitter to pass on to colleagues. You can see the sort of response I’ve got here and I’ve been passing the messages on to my colleagues.

You’d think we’d struggle to work the extended shifts we’re now working but to be honest, such a level of positive feedback makes coping with the situation so much easier.

Just before I finished in the early hours I’d taken a photo in the canteen of some of the officers who were taking a break having manned one of the riot vans for however many hours previously. I’d accompanied the photo with the title ‘Dedication. Can’t say more than that’ as genuinely there was nothing more I could add.

The support we’ve had from the public I think is summed up in the response that this photo has had. I asked that it be forwarded, thinking that being the early hours a handful of people might see it. At time of writing, twenty five thousand people have viewed it.

Dedication. It goes both ways.


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