The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted

Kevin Meagher argues that increased spending on military-style equipment for the police is the last thing that the riots should lead to.

 

Metropolitan Police chiefs are considering spending £4 million on three new water cannons as well as increasing the number of officers trained to fire plastic bullets, according to a leaked review of police tactics following this summer’s riots.

This follows hot on the heels of last week’s leaked report by the Police Federation which argued that a lack of useful on-the-ground intelligence hampered the task of identifying community leaders who could have helped intervene with the rioters.

There were also basic logistical and telecommunication failures which saw frontline officers resort to using their personal mobile phones in order to co-ordinate with their colleagues.

This is where any inquest into the policing failures of this summer’s disturbances should start – with the practical measures that will make a difference if there is any repeat occurrence – rather than buying expensive, unproven and ethically-dubious paramilitary-style equipment.

As Left Foot Forward has previously argued, water cannons are ill-suited to the kind of civil disorder we witnessed during August’s riots as they rely on there being large static crowds to disperse (as there often are with Northern Ireland’s parades disputes) rather than the small, mobile groups we saw.

Despite the Prime Minister boasting at the time that water cannons could be deployed “within 24 hours”, we revealed that there are presently only six water cannons in the whole of the UK (all in Northern Ireland) and they require specialist training before deployment.

Moreover, home secretary Theresa May has been strongly opposed to the use of water cannons in the past, telling the House of Commons last December :

“I do not think that anyone wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain… we have a different attitude to the culture of policing here in the UK. We police by consent, and that depends on trust between the police and the public.

“A range of measures is available to the police, and I do not think that water cannon is needed.

One year on and the police are taking it upon themselves to supersede the home secretary’s sensible advice; with a creeping militarisation of our policing that undermines our basic civil rights as well as damaging Britain’s reputation around the world.

Water cannons and baton rounds are more commonly regarded as tools of the trade for repressive regimes looking to quell popular uprisings. Indeed earlier this week, students in the Philippines marching in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement were beaten back by water cannons after they tried to march to the presidential palace.

In the British context it is hard not to see the Met’s move as an over-reaction ahead of next summer’s Olympic Games. There may well be pressure on new Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, to crack down in order to avoid a repeat of the scenes we saw in London and other major cities, but this should not come at any cost.

As we have seen with the deployment of tasers, once the police are issued with offensive weapons they will be used – and invariably misused. A Channel Four investigation earlier this month showed a sharp rise in police forces using tasers – ‘stun guns’ discharging a 50,000 volt charge – with the average force increasing  their use of tasers year-on-year between March 2010 and March 2011 by an alarming 130 per cent.

Amnesty International has voiced concern about their growing use following separate incidents in August where two men died after being tasered by police officers.

Meanwhile baton rounds – the euphemism for rubber and plastic bullets – have long been used in Northern Ireland against protestors, with often fatal consequences.

The University of Ulster calculates that 14 people under the age of 22 were killed by baton rounds during the height of the troubles between 1969 and 1991. Nine of the dead were under 16. The comparison is apt given much of this summer’s rioting was carried out by young people and school-age children.

The question then follows: are we really going to sleepwalk into a position where we see potentially lethal weapons routinely used against school-age children, or student protestors? Or watch as the St. Paul’s Cathedral demonstrators are water-blasted off the streets?

The police have a difficult job in countering highly mobile rioters and mass protestors, but meeting their onerous responsibilities by ‘tooling up’ is not the answer.

Policing ‘by consent’ must be preserved and this creeping militarisation must be resisted.

See also:

Water cannons are “useless”, require specialised training and we only have six – Kevin Meagher, August 12th 2011

Riots – the view from the devolved nations – Ed Jacobs, August 11th 2011

Our summer of strife is a degenerated, cracked-mirror image of the Arab Spring – Kevin Meagher, August 10th 2011

The security, symbolism and history of the Queen’s visit to Ireland – Patrick Bury, May 17th 2011

The urgent need for global, legally-binding arms trade legislation – Oliver Sprague, February 28th 2011

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

37 Responses to “The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted”

  1. Political Planet

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted: Kevin Meagher argues that increased spending on mili… http://t.co/ezipt3q2

  2. Len Arthur

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  3. Juan Voet

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  4. Pod Wangler

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  5. Mark Stevo

    “Despite the Prime Minister boasting at the time that water cannons could be deployed “within 24 hours”, we revealed that there are presently only six water cannons in the whole of the UK (all in Northern Ireland) and they require specialist training before deployment.”

    (1) You revealed? This was common knowledge
    (2) Those pesky PSNI guys are quite mobile. I dare say they, along with their specialist training, could get to London within 24 hours. I hear they even have flights to Belfast these days.

  6. Kevin Blowe

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/9chEGT5q

  7. Jennifer C Krase

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/9chEGT5q

  8. Anonymous

    I saw two police officers strolling around Mayfair with MP5 submachine guns the other day. Armed police should be there for times of emergency, and to respond to gun-toting maniacs. Instead, the idea of police carrying very powerful weapons is becoming the accepted norm.

  9. Rowland Paul Hill

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  10. PoshBirdGabi

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/9chEGT5q

  11. Maria S

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/9chEGT5q

  12. Juan Voet

    RT for the late risers: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  13. Rhys Needham

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/VDpBgxYi

  14. Rizwaan Sabir

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/9chEGT5q

  15. Samantha Johnston

    RT for the late risers: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  16. Steve

    RT for the late risers: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  17. Pucci D

    RT for the late risers: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  18. Kevin Meagher

    RT @leftfootfwd: The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted http://t.co/YPTg1d89

  19. Kevin

    Mark – guess those ‘pesky PSNI guys’ take vehicle-mounted water cannon as hand luggage do they? How much would Michael O’Leary charge for that…?

  20. Gareth Jones

    http://t.co/e1LoGM4N The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted #uk #politics

  21. Newsbot9

    What do you expect? To crush dissent, you need a militarised police force.

    They’ve got the lying and threatening people with maiming for exercising democratic rights down pat…

  22. Richard

    Oh wake up! They’re not walking around with guns to catch shoplifters. It’s a specific section of the Met police designated to respond early to terrorism. They are there to respond to Mumbai style massacres in London, to try to prevent massive loss of life. What would you have them use -harsh language, wooden truncheons?

  23. Newsbot9

    So yes, so early terror response involves intimidating the populace and making themselves a target on the street.

    No, the first is the intended goal – intimidation, pure and simple.

  24. Kevin Meagher

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted, writes @KevinPMeagher: http://t.co/kDGtchUb

  25. Richard

    I agree, it’s to intimidate terrorists.

  26. Richard

    Are you one of these Class War types?

  27. Newsbot9

    The rights class war is inflicted on anyone who stands against them, as I’m sure you’re well aware.

  28. Newsbot9

    Oh yes, I’m so sure they’ll be so intimidated that they can locate the armed police and wait for them to move away, or start by shooting them.

    Logic ain’t forte yours.

  29. Richard

    So having armed police helps terrorists, is that what you’re saying?

  30. Mark Stevo

    You know boats still exist, right? Have you ever been to Ireland? Your lack of knowledge on the various methods of getting there is troubling.

  31. Richard

    Oh, very Billy Bragg.

  32. Resources, powers and accountability – the three big issues facing the police in 2012 | Left Foot Forward

    […] Federation (which represents officers up to the rank of Inspector) recently argued there were basic logistical mistakes which hampered the co-ordination of the policing […]

  33. Trigger happy Theresa has a worthy goal but not enough cops to make it happen | Left Foot Forward

    […] The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted 9 Dec […]

  34. Dylan James

    you really fucking think that terrorism is commited by Mumbai or muslim culture bullshit you need to wake up yourself government are the ones that create terror to scare civilisation to listen to there say and keep us all in line kach jo a muslim naa didn’t think so ……. it seems like rag heads n pakis are worryin ya fams but ya fams fav food is curry n kehbab plain dickheads militerised policing is a part of that governed terrorism its manufactured through the puppet masteres and secret services ……… ever gone up to a free mason and ask them what they do n they cant tell you ….. to stop the wrong person overhearing and forming a resistance fuck the country the whole governed world infact

  35. Dylan James

    Newsbot ur full of bullshit fuck off militerized police

  36. Dylan James

    PM’s very own terror scare tactic unto the eyes of his people

  37. Dylan James

    The creeping militarisation of our police must be resisted

Leave a Reply