Police fear further city riots as watchdog predicts more cuts
Officers warn that if riots break out while London Games are on, they won’t be able to cope
A COMPREHENSIVE review of the rioting that swept England last August published by The Guardian and the London School of Economics reveals that police are expecting there to be a repeat of the disturbances that claimed five lives, saw scores of police and civilians injured, and led to hundreds of millions of pounds of damage.
The Reading the Riots survey has collected evidence from 130 police officers of all ranks who were on duty in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool during the trouble. The view of many of these officers is that worsening social and economic conditions could lead to similar outbreaks of mass illegality.
"I think if you have bad economic times, hot weather, some sort of an event that sets it off... my answer is: yes, it could," a Greater Manchester superintendent told the survey. "Because I don't think anything has changed between now and last August, and the only thing that's different is people have thought: riots are fun."
Much of the evidence gathered highlights the heroism displayed by the rank and file during the riots, with hair-raising tales of under-equipped officers being sent out to subdue large numbers of rioters on the streets. But there is an acknowledgment that some of the tactics deployed - such as the perceived lack of numbers early on in the crisis - were flawed.
One thing that comes up repeatedly is that in the light of government cuts to their numbers, many of these interviewed question whether the police service would now be able to effectively counter widespread disorder, especially if the force as a whole was focusing on other priorities, such as the Olympic Games.
This point is driven home in a report released today by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which says 17,600 police jobs have disappeared since March 2010 and predicts that a further 5,800 frontline positions will disappear from forces across the country over the next three years as Home Office cuts bite harder.
Addressing concerns that the Olympics could see the Metropolitan Police stretched, the chief inspector of constabulary Sir Denis O'Connor said: "There are some reserve proposals in place to deal with the Olympics and the other side of that. If somebody is looking to get frisky on Thursday, Friday or Saturday night then there is provision in hand."
But Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, told the Guardian: "[Reading the Riots] demonstrates what we have been telling the government for two years now; that a 20 per cent budget cut to policing will have a negative impact on public safety and that police numbers really do matter. Officers identify and voice concern that, should the same circumstances occur again, the police service would struggle to cope."