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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Endemic Public Order Problems In The UK

09 August, 2011
The failure of the UK police to contain outbreaks of rioting and violence an extension of poor public order policing
In a report today by the British Retail Consortium, the organisation's Director General said "...community difficulties will not be helped by torching shops". The word "community" used to be associated with mental images of tranquillity, harmony and the feeling of satisfaction from belonging to a part of society that extends beyond the immediate family.



Now the word "community" seems to be synonymous with troubled sectors of society, inner city deprived areas and large housing estates riddled with crime and such "communities" are becoming more and more difficult to police, despite the introduction some years ago of "community" police.



The UK has always quite rightly been proud of certain aspects of its policing: Corruption exists but is relatively low compared to other countries, individual officers are generally smart, well-educated, well-equipped and conscientious. They're also quick to respond in emergencies and are well equipped to deal with them. However, when it comes to public order, the police were long-since castrated by a lack of regulatory balance.



The transformation of a sense of community from something pastoral into something terrifying occurred exactly when that regulatory balance was lost.



Regulatory bodies, watchdogs and the Police and Criminal Evidence act were necessary in order to prevent the police from abusing their powers but not to remove their powers entirely. Clearly, such measures were needed to protect innocent people from being bullied, hassled or beaten up by the police but the effect was to make every member of Britain's police force afraid to deal with crime with any kind of vigour because the balance had gone, everything became polarized.



The result is that people on the fringes of criminality can push into the grey areas, nudging the boundaries and knowing the police will just stand there and wait for them to provide enough cause for them to be arrested. Usually this doesn't happen and we end up with the kind of scenes we've all seen on the streets every Friday and Saturday night where arrogant louts taunt the police and passers-by while the police stand in a line with their arms folded, trying to look like they're in control but actually looking like overdressed wall-flowers.



Meanwhile, the hooligans push the boundaries further and become more confident and more prolific, affecting every aspect of the daily lives of everyone in society. Is there anyone living anywhere in Britain who has not been insulted, abused or confronted at some time in their normal daily lives? .... No, I didn't think so.



I share my time between the UK and another country where I've lived on and off for the past 9 years, a country which many would consider to be not as well developed as the UK but one in which I have never seen an act of unprovoked violence or public disorder on any scale, neither full scale riots nor small groups of drunks showing their backsides. The city where I live is a peaceful, safe community of about 2 million. There is crime of course, but hooliganism is practically non-existent.



By contrast my home in the UK is a small, historic town of less than 80,000 people where a town centre walk on any Friday or Saturday night is a very unpleasant experience. Nobody will challenge a hooligan that causes trouble in McDonald's, shouts and swears on his mobile phone in a "quiet zone" carriage on the train or throws things about in the bus. Nobody will challenge them because they won't win, they can't win. Our whole system is set up to give as much rein to hooligans as possible and the least level of protection and freedom to everyone else.



The London rioting is just an extension of this endemic problem, it has been taken to extremes and it was entirely inevitable.



In a newspaper report yesterday, a journalist challenged a police officer and asked him why they weren't doing more. The reply was "We're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't". If the police can no longer feel that they can fulfil their oath to protect life and property, then anarchy is only a very small step away.
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