George Hallam, Lewisham People before Profit,
Letter to the Guardian , 17th August 2011.
As I saw for myself in Lewisham, the police failed to stop the riots. The prime minister says the answer is technology such as water cannons. Those with experience of these matters disagree. As Hugh Orde has said, “In stark terms, without extremely violent and static crowds, they [water cannons] are useless.” These crowds showed a distinctly unsporting reluctance to be “static”.
The police I saw were concentrated in relatively large groups. Many formed cordons. Such tactics are designed for sealing off areas, containing demonstrations and protecting key buildings, not arresting opportunistic looters. The heavy equipment used was a handicap in catching up with fast-moving looters. As a result police were left standing around while the troublemakers were wreaking havoc a few hundred yards away.
Where have these police tactics come from? They are the product of current police doctrine on public order. The focus of doctrine has changed from the traditional one of protecting the community against criminals to a political one that is more concerned with containing dissent. All the equipment and mode of deployment we see today was designed to contain demonstrations and defeat strike pickets, not chase down fleeing criminals.