Brian Paddick writes… Policing the riots

I am on the horns of a dilemma. I served Londoners in the Metropolitan Police for more than 30 years and loyalty to my former colleagues runs deep. As a sergeant, I faced bricks and petrol bombs on the streets of Brixton in 1981. So I know what officers went through during the recent riots. I later became one of a small cadre of advanced trained public order senior officers who took charge of policing protests and big events in London. So I know the strategies and tactics for dealing with riots. Yet I, like most Londoners, was disappointed by the overall response of the police to the recent riots. So should I remain loyal to the police or should I criticise them?

In August, the police shot a man dead in Tottenham, North London and a peaceful protest at the police station escalated into a riot. I had faced a similar situation when I was the Police Commander in Lambeth in 2001, when a police marksman shot and killed a member of the public. In 2001, the ‘peaceful’ demonstration degenerated into rioting as it did in August. The police should have remembered what happened in 2001 and realised that the demonstration in Tottenham had the potential to turn violent. The police should have had sufficient suitably trained and equipped officers on duty to deal with the rioting. I honestly believe, if they had arrested looters on the Saturday night, the rioting would not have spread to other parts of London and to other parts of the country. It was the pictures of rioters walking past police officers with stolen goods, unchallenged, that encouraged further rioting across the country.

I know for a fact that there are enough suitably trained and equipped officers in London to deal with most riot situations. The highly trained Territorial Support Group are supported by brave volunteer officers who undergo very realistic training, four days a year, who police demonstrations in addition to their ordinary patrol duties. Not for the first time (senior officers made a similar miscalculation during the first student protest last year when the Conservative Party Headquarters were stormed) officers’ lives were put at risk because there were not enough of them on duty to deal with the violence. The Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin later admitted that they did not have enough officers available on the Saturday night, or on the Sunday night in London, to deal with the rioting.

What finally brought the violence to an end? It certainly was not CCTV. Images recorded by television cameras may help with post-event investigation but as we so clearly saw, CCTV does not deter people from committing crime. It was having enough police officers visible on our streets, arresting those responsible, that put an end to the rioting and it is having more police officers visible on our streets that is what is going to make us safer, not more CCTV. And it is not the severity of the penalty that deters criminals; it is the certainty of getting caught. Why should criminals be concerned about the penalty if they believe the police won’t catch them?

Police officers on patrol across the country put their lives on the line for us every day of the week. They do an incredibly difficult and dangerous job on our behalf. I know what they face because I have faced it myself. But my role, as a prospective Mayor of London, is to speak up for Londoners. I will defend our dedicated frontline police officers to the hilt but when their senior officers let Londoners down, and their own frontline staff down, I will stand-up for Londoners, despite my loyalty to the police. That is what the Mayor should do and it is precisely what both this Mayor and the previous Mayor have failed to do, unswerving as they have been in their support for the police, irrespective of what the police do or what Londoners say.

Thankfully the new Met Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has been saying all the right things and shows every sign of turning the situation around at the top of the Met. I have described him publicly as “impressive”. He appears to be providing the leadership both the public and his own officers deserve and I hope the respect and support that I have given to the overwhelming majority of front line officers in the past can be extended to those at the top of the Metropolitan Police. But that depends on them changing, not me.

Brian Paddick is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London

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8 Comments

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Sep '11 - 12:36pm

    “Thankfully the new Met Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has been saying all the right things and shows every sign of turning the situation around at the top of the Met.”

    The incompetent handling of ‘dealing with’ whoever within the Met leaked information to the Guardian about the Milly Dowler phone hacking suggests not. It suggests total political ineptitude.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Sep '11 - 4:56pm

    “therefore a little unfair to blame him about alleged leaks to the Guardian about the Milly Dowler phone hacking when he’s only been in charge of the Met for less than three weeks!”

    I’m not blaming him about the alleged leak itself and never said I was – the issue as far as he is concerned is the Met’s attempt to use the Official Secrets Act to force the Guardian to reveal their source. He needed to have the commonsense to stop it in its tracks if it started prior to his taking up his post and if it started after he took up his post then the buck most definitely stops on his desk. In this respect I thought he made a dreadful start to the job.

    Whoever did the leaking did UK society and the democratic process a major public service and should be protected as a whistleblower.

  • If Hogan-Howe brings his zero tolerance policing to London in a time of sweeping cuts then I fear the police and justice system will struggle with the workload. I hope he prioritises the offences that are of genuine importance to public order and public safety.

  • Jack Holroyde 29th Sep '11 - 10:39am

    “The highly trained Territorial Support Group”
    If you want to find why protests turn to riots, head down to a protest thats being ‘policed’ by TSG. When they come at you with batons, when they break your bones because you’ve looked at them the wrong way, when they’ve imprisoned you wrongly inside a cordon with no food or water for 8 hours, then maybe you’ll reassess your opinion of the TSG.

    While I voted for Brian and I think he’ll be an excellent candidate, I think as a former copper he fails to understand the hatred some people feel towards the Met.
    It’s not just shootings. It starts years ago, coppers putting on their flashers to skip some traffic then switching them off 10 seconds later, or driving the wrong way down a one-way-street. Or double parking.
    Or pulling a kid over for wearing a hoodie then arresting them for refusing to co-operate.
    Or waging ‘war on drugs’ (I know Brian has some sense here) which targets BME young people’s culture, leaving White rich people their equivalent of champagne and vol-eu-vents.
    Then you have phone hacking, bribe taking, brazilian shooting, people dying in custody.
    You see police marksmen joking in court about shooting a man in the head.
    All this time, the police say ‘I did what I thought was right at the time’ and get away with murder. Literally.
    THEN, a court system that locks ‘rioters’ up for 18 months for stealing a lettuce worth 50p while frauds who embezzle the taxpayer out of £100k are let out after 6 months.

    In my area (Harrow Road) I refuse to recognise the authority of the police. If they try to stop me, I treat them as I would treat any gang member who tried to stop me. If they try to arrest me, I will treat it as a kidnapping and fight back for my life.

    AND I’M A WHITE, MIDDLE CLASS, WELL EDUCATED LIBERAL.

    THIS is the problem you have to deal with. If I feel like sticking on some NWA and punching a copper in the kisser, how do you think half of London’s young people feel?

  • Brian Paddick 30th Sep '11 - 10:18am

    I think history may show that Hogan-Howe put a stop to the Met’s action against the Guardian as soon as he became aware of it. We will have to wait and see.

    Trust me, I know about hatred of the police. I was at a meeting with 100 young people this week, mainly black, talking about their experience of the riots and they made it clear what they felt about the police. I also heard from others present at the same meeting who believed the police were being wrongly blamed for malpractice and that they were doing the best they could (although it was the older white people who were saying that!)

    Not only did I ‘show some sense’ over drugs enforcement, I also gave evidence for the DeMenezes family at the inquest into the shooting of their innocent Brazilian son. I also told The Guardian a few days after they published the video of the newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson being struck by a police officer that it could lead to the officer facing a charge of manslaughter. It took two years and an inquest into Tomlinson’s death before the CPS changed their minds and charged the officer with manslaughter.

    I do find it difficult because there are so many honest, hard-working, reasonable, dedicated, police officers who only want to do the right thing, I was with some of them for several hours this week following an incident at the block of flats where I live. They handled a tragic incident with genuine concern and sensitivity. To criticise the police generally is to unfairly condemn those officers. It is the actions of many senior police officers and their failure to provide effective and appropriate leadership and the actions of a minority of rank and file officers that result in the police getting a bad reputation. I agree the police have avoidably killed people, have wrongly and disproportionately focused their attention on innocent minorities and young people but to assume that the police officer who approaches you in the street or answers your 999 call is one of the bad guys is unfair and unreasonable. It is as bad for us to stereotype the police officer we have contact with as a racist thug as it is for the police to stereotype a black person as a street robber.

    Reform is needed in the police and it is my job as a potential Mayor to provide the political pressure to ensure such reform happens. Far from being too soft of the police, I can focus attention precisely where the reforms are needed because I know exactly where they are needed and how to bring the necessary changes about.

  • Jack Holroyde 1st Oct '11 - 12:50pm

    Brian,
    Thanks for your reasoned response – its convincing, but I must disagree with you about ‘stereotyping’.
    The Met gains its authority from people trusting them and believing in their authority.
    The more crooked individual officers are seen, the less credibility the entire force has. I know it’s a small minority of coppers who are total arseholes, but the good ones never stop you, insult you and violate your personal space in the name of the crown.
    The more bent coppers, the less one sees the good coppers.

    Respect must be earned – and it must be earned by the whole Met, not just the good cops.
    In the meantime, I know i’m safe in saying that the majority of police who might want to speak to me in my area are not to be trusted. The good cops are busy filling in paperwork at the yard, the bad ones are getting ‘tough on crime’.

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