Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Her Majesty's Marshalcy: Separating Consensual and Coercive Policing

 I recently discovered a couple of interesting articles in the Telegraph, one recent and one less so. Each of these outline proposals - an old set from the Conservatives in 2007 and a post-riots set from a Telegraph columnist - for creating a Territorial Army-style police reserve force. I was originally going to do a post arguing for much the same thing here, but I think that as the ground has been so well trodden those links should be sufficient.

 However, establishing a Police Reserve would only solve one of the two major problems facing British policing: the manpower shortage. It would do nothing to address the second - and perhaps more important - problem: the political debate about whether or not British policing is 'consensual' or not. The lack of clear political direction at the top will do as much to cripple British public order policing as a lack of people, and risks more damage to the police's public image.

 The photographs of police standing around, observing riots without intervening, outraged many. Yet it is very hard to place any blame on the shoulders of the officers on the ground. For years now, police action at riots has been met with relentless criticism, and their response to public disorder has been enfeebled as a consequence. This is especially true where the upper echelons of the service, more politicised and fearful of bad press, do not command the full confidence of the troops on the ground. If a police officer does not feel that their superiors will back them up one hundred percent, they will not risk life and limb only to risk dismissal or prosecution if he survives, and nor should they. And when British riot police now all come with ID numbers for ease of lawsuit, it starts to become somewhat miraculous that they dared step in at all.

 With the advent of elected police commissioners, this trend is likely to get worse. After all, who wants to be the elected official responsible for an incident of police brutality, alleged or real? When democracy is introduced to the top of the UK's police forces, the gloves will most likely stay firmly on.

 Beyond this, there are some good arguments for consensual policing. Critics of hard line public order policing are right to point out that it is hard for a police force to be cracking skulls in armour of an evening and comfortably patrolling those same streets in regular uniform the next day. Once the local police are put into an adversarial relationship with an element of the community they operate in, it is harder for them to operate at maximum effectiveness. The debate is often cast between the oh-so-British option of policing by acceptance and goodwill, and the somehow continental alternative of policing through force. 

 What if there was a solution that allows for both?

Ta da!
 In France, and many other francophone countries, there operates an organisation known as the gendarmerie - a military police force with (almost) exclusively civilian responsibilities. While the French operate many different gendarmeries for different purposes, the model I'm proposing to copy here would be the Gendarmerie Mobile - the last line of defence in French riot control.

 The idea behind establishing a British marshalcy is simple - it allows for the separation of consensual and coercive policing. Day to day patrol work, low level public order policing (as performed by the CRS in France) and most of the duties of a civilian police service would continue to be carried out by the regular police services. Specialised security work and dealing with severe public disorder would fall within the purview of the marshalcy. They would be trained in such tactics as CS gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and authorised to use them. Their job would be to go in and shut riots down, fast.

 This could have several advantageous effects. Being a distinct organisation allows marshals to enjoy a clearer mandate and less politicised command establishment than the civilian police services. It also means that the impact of tough public order measures will not fall so much on the local police force, allowing them to focus on the consensual, community-focused policing that serves Britain so well most of the time. By having a national footprint (much like the British Transport Police), the marshalcy would be able to draw upon out-of-area manpower to avoid having to put local police officers into battle against local rioters. 

 By taking on most of the police-with-guns security tasks and absorbing such anomalies as the Ministry of Defence Police, a marshalcy could combine all the 'hard-edged' aspects of UK law enforcement into one well-trained, focused organisation. This would lend it one final - sad, but necessary - advantage: rioters would fear it. The problem with having a relatively conscientious, open policing style in the UK is that criminals are emboldened when the police are put up against it. Many were drawn onto the streets during the recent riots because the media was reinforcing a preconception that the police would do little to stop them. With this force, once they were deployed no looter would be in any doubt about their mandate or their capabilities. The line in the sand would be clear, and few would cross it.

 Policing is not really a choice between British 'soft' policing and a 'harder' European approach, at least not in this day and age: a truly effective police policy must acknowledge the need for both.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Asking the Wrong Question on Riot Control

 Two zoo keepers are discussing a recent tragedy. For a long time they have prided themselves on the openness of their zoo: the animals are orderly, the visitors safe, restraints few. Unlike zoos in other countries, they have not needed to use iron bars and electric tags to control their animals. Their reputation is a source of pride.

 Yet recently there have been problems. The animals had been growing more restive, more threatening. Guests were becoming more nervous and less frequent. All of this had come to a head last night, when a lion went on a rampage, eventually leading other animals to do the same. Thousands of pounds worth of damage had been done, many people had been injured and, worst of all, four people had been killed.  Perhaps even worse was the fact that many were blaming the limp response of the zoo keepers for the rampage being so long. Something has to be done, and the response of their visitors is clear: get tough, cage the lion.

 One zoo keeper, greatly attached to the idea of an open zoo and the reputation of his well-ordered animals, asks: "Are we the kind of zoo that cages lions?!"

 The second, perhaps more realistic one asks himself: "Is it the sort of lion that needs caging?"

 Which do you think is the right question?*


 I've never opened an article with a parable before, to the best of my knowledge. Yet it seemed a nice way to sum up succinctly the thoughts that go through my mind whenever I hear people talking about how certain types of riot control 'aren't British' or 'aren't how we police in this country'. This has always struck me as focusing on entirely the wrong thing.

 If one was to boast about how peaceable and law-abiding Britain has been, the form of words must surely be "Britain is a country that doesn't need to use water cannon and rubber bullets to control her people - they control themselves". The riot policing techniques that we don't use aren't key to the boast, they are simply an illustrative symptom of the style of law and order required on the UK mainland. The source of pride must surely be not that they aren't used in Britain, but that they aren't needed.

 Yet many commentators, both left and right, appear to have turned illness and symptom on their heads. To them the main source of pride appears to be simply that we don't use certain tactics, with no reference to the task that these tactics are supposed to perform. Theresa May's comments about the deployment of water cannon, which I quoted in a previous article, provide a good example of what I mean.

 Surely it is foolish to presume that there is any inherent moral value in disdaining certain policing tactics, none of which are horrifying, regardless of circumstance. If Britain doesn't need rubber bullets and water cannon, then boasting that we don't need these things makes sense. But if British rioters do need to be controlled in such a fashion, taking pride in failing to take necessary measures to protect life and property is outright idiotic.

 Why do people on the left and right end up taking this bizarre position? I can think of a couple of reasons.

 For the right, its a bit like sticking one's fingers in one's ears and watching a slideshow of the 1950's while humming God Save the Queen: a form of denial, of escapism as public policy. As long as we don't start using 'nasty' riot policing like they do on the continent, we can continue to cling to the tattered myth that the British are, in their own quiescent way, the morally superior people. Admitting that the sort of outstanding good manners and public order that used to be a hallmark of the 'English' has faded away is too difficult. As long as we don't use water cannon, and they do, then we can pretend that Britain is still a land of almost mystical public order and - importantly - we're better than France, which isn't.

 From the left, it tends to come from those who are in sympathy with whichever cause they have projected onto the rioters. The fact that the police can't use these measures is a good thing because these commentators don't want them to, rather than the other way round. I've written about the sometimes excessively liberal approach of the Metropolitan Police to civil disorder once or twice on TSJ. None of these commentators want to risk the British public, political establishment and police overcoming their reluctance to use hard riot policing techniques, lest they be used to prevent the next assault on CCHQ.

 The moral nature of riot police tactics, like many other things, is contextual, not absolute. Using CS gas or baton rounds on a few people holding placards on a high street is wrong. Using CS gas or baton rounds to disperse a mob attacking buildings, jeopardising property and human life, is not. Without the right perspective, policy makers will fail to establish policy that restores the respect and confidence of the public to the police. Before they try to find the answer to preventing future riots, those in charge must make sure that they're asking the right questions.

 *As there are always a few humourless people reading this blog, I'll pre-empt a couple of responses to this parable now. 1) No, I do not believe that the rioters are animals, and 2) "but what if, like, we lived in a world without zoo keepers, man?" is not a good comeback. People would get eaten.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Introducing: Another Liberal Unionist

 I'd like to welcome Liberal Unionist to the blogosphere. It is very nice to see another liberal unionist - and an actual LibDem to boot - adding some fresh blood to the unionist blogosphere after the recent resignation of Unionist Lite, and I'd encourage you all to check him out - just click on the logo below to be taken through. Apropos of nothing, I designed that logo...

My Photo
...and I'm rather proud of it.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Dilettante on the Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night

 I appeared - alongside former sparring partner Michael Atkins - again on 5 Live's Up All Night with Dotun Adebayo discussing the recent civil disorder. My section runs from 2.30am to 4am, starting an hour and a half into the program on iPlayer.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Total Politics Blog Awards 2011: Voting is Open

If you want to vote, please read this post first.

For those interested in voting, please follow the link by clicking on the image below. In order to vote you must select at least five blogs and five writers, but that is the only minimum requirement. If the form refuses to allow you to leave without filling everything in, but "N/A" and "Non-Aligned" into the rest of the boxes.

Total Politics Blog Awards 2011

 For those of you thinking of voting for me (and thank you kindly, if so), put "Dilettante" in the blogs section and "Henry Hill - Dilettante" in the individual bloggers section. In both instances, the relevant categories are "Right Wing" and "Conservative".

 If you're not heavily into blogging and can't think of five to vote for, perhaps this might be a good time to explore a few new ones. My blog list on the right contains some excellent blogs, but below is a selection of the ones I'd consider, in no particular order, along with their relevant categories:

Cicero's Songs: Liberal Democrat
Liberal Vision: Liberal Democrat, Right Wing, Libertarian
Nationalist Mythbusting: Right Wing, Non-Aligned, Scottish
ConservativeHome: Right Wing, Conservative, Group Blog
Political Betting: Non-Aligned, Group Blog
New-Right: Left Wing, Conservative, Scottish
Charlotte Gore: Right Wing, Non-Aligned, Libertarian
Byrne Tofferings: Right Wing, Non-Aligned
Three Thousand Versts of Lonliness: Right Wing, Conservative, Northern Ireland
Norman Tebbit: Right Wing, Conservative, Media
John Tyler: Right Wing, Conservative, Wales
The Online Society: Non-Aligned, Group Blog, Media
Nick Cohen: Left Wing, Media, Non-Aligned
Alex Massie: Right Wing, Non-Aligned, Scottish
Coffee House: Right Wing, Group Blog
The Student Journals: Non-Aligned, Group Blog, Media

Enjoy voting!

EDIT: Turns out that you also need to list five writers for your vote to count. Tedious. Here are my five:

Henry Hill - Dilletante: Right Wing, Conservative
Tim Montgomerie: Right Wing, Conservative
Norman Tebbit: Right Wing, Conservative
Nick Cohen: Left Wing, Labour
Alex Massie: Right Wing, Conservative, Scottish

 For you heroes who can still be bothered to vote after reading the process, a round of extremely grateful applause.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

British Policing: By Consent, or Cowardice?: Dilettante on The Student Journals

I've another article up on TSJ, this one examining the concept of 'consensual' riot policing and possible reasons for the rather limp response given by the police in the early days of the riots. Please take a look.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Ulster Streets are British Streets: The double standard in riot policing must end.

 The response to the riots that have convulsed major mainland British cities – particularly London – over the last few days has been telling. Many people, after watching the television footage of citizens terrorised, shops looted and historic buildings torched, are calling for a more ‘vigorous’ approach to riot policing. The sight of hooligans trashing the capital seemingly with impunity is, in my view, frankly embarrassing.

The authorities, however, have a different view. Theresa May announced this morning that water cannon will not be used. I have no problem with this myself, because water cannon are distance management tools that I don’t think would be of much use in the sort of decentralised, looting-focused riots we’re seeing at the moment. What vexed me was her justification:

"The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon," she said. "The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities."
The Telegraph, 09/08/11 

There are two objectionable errors in this statement: the idea that we don’t use water cannon as a part of British riot policing; and the idea that ‘community consent’ means allowing law-breakers to run rampant. I will be addressing the second in an article on TSJ, but let’s examine the first.

It sends a worrying message about this government’s attitude towards Northern Ireland if the Home Secretary can claim with a straight face that riot control tactics that are a regular feature of Northern Ireland policing have ‘no place’ in British policing.

Img psnibadge.png
A British Police Service.
This isn’t simply a matter of my unionist sensibilities being rankled by semantics, it hints at a deeper problem with the attitude of the British government towards Northern Ireland and the double standards it operates when it comes to protecting its citizens.

There are two ways of looking at this. The first is to look at it from the rioter’s point of view: if it is politically unacceptable for the government or Metropolitan Police to use water cannon and baton rounds against English rioters, why is it acceptable to use such tactics against rioters (whether Protestant or Catholic) in Northern Ireland? Through the other end of the telescope, why should British citizens in Northern Ireland be able to expect a more vigorous police response than their compatriots in the South-East and the Midlands?

That isn’t to say that the P.S.N.I’s approach is perfect – the Metropolitan Police are at least conducting mass arrests and recovering stolen property, which the P.S.N.I. – at least according to the News Letter – does not. Yet Northern Ireland’s representatives in parliament should ask the government why it condones tactics against the Northern Irish that it refuses to use on the mainland. Northern Ireland is not a foreign land, and if a tactic is used in Ulster, it is ‘in use’ in the UK.