Police watchdog calls for riot response rules

20 Dec 11
Police need clear, publicly agreed rules for dealing with disorder in the wake of this summer’s riots, the Inspectorate of Constabulary said today.

By Nick Mann | 20 December 2011

Police need clear, publicly agreed rules for dealing with disorder in the wake of this summer’s riots, the Inspectorate of Constabulary said today.

In The rules of engagement: a review of the August 2011 disorders, the watchdog said that the police needed to be better prepared, trained and ready to protect the public. The inspectors found that some officers were uncertain about the tactics and level of force they could lawfully use during disorder, following years of relative calm on the streets.

Police training, tactics, equipment and organisation had also been developed largely to deal with set-piece, single site confrontations with protesters, leaving officers ill prepared for the ‘widespread, fast-moving and opportunistic’ nature of the summer disorder.

To better respond to future disorder, appropriate tactics and use of force should be agreed following a public debate and set out as Rules of Engagement. These should include where and when the use of protected vehicles, water cannon and stun guns would be acceptable. The watchdog said this debate should be informed by what is practical, affordable and likely to sustain public support.

A central information ‘all source’ hub would also be needed, drawing together information from sources such as social media to help anticipate disorder, the inspectors added.

Chief inspector of constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor said that although the police had eventually regained control of the streets, their initial response to the summer riots had been ‘hesitant’.

‘The approach to restoring order needs to change to enable a speedier, self-assured response where the threat to the public demands it,’ he said.

He explained that the Rules of Engagement ‘should be part of a new national framework for resolving public disorder that sets out clear expectations around the early resolution of disorder and details of the planning required to ensure forces are prepared for national disorders’.

The Home Office said the report’s recommendations would require ‘careful and serious consideration’ by the government and police service working together.

‘The way in which the police respond to public disorder is a matter of key public interest. The August disturbances brought havoc to some of our cities and communities. [The inspectorate] have, in a short period of time, produced a wide-ranging and detailed report and this is to be commended,’ it said.

‘The report contains a significant amount of detail and evidence which will require detailed assessment by the government and the police service as a whole.’

Yesterday, the Commons home affairs select committee concluded that the police response to the riots was ‘flawed’. InPolicing large-scale disorder: lessons from thedisturbances of August 2011, the MPs called for a ‘rapid improvement’ in police training to deal with any future disorder and said the government should speed up compensation for people affected by the riots.


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