rarely used and rarely seen?


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The anniversary of the Summer riots in 2011 is a mere month away. One of the consequences of the terrible scenes from Croydon and other parts of London along with a small number of urban settings across the UK is the arrival of three second hand German water cannon that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe has purchased with the support of Boris Johnson. Boris stated that the cannon are ‘probably safe’ in a radio interview with Nick Ferrari and was then cajoled into agreeing to stand in front of one of the devices along with the broadcaster to show how safe they are. This decision is one that Dietrich Wagner would not recommend. Mr Wagner was left unconscious, his eyes irreparably damaged when he took the full force of a water cannon to the face during an environmental protest in Stuttgart. His message is “police need to be aware that they are not just a big shower, they are lethal weapons and do serious bodily harm.” His eyelids were torn by the force of the water, damaging the lenses of his eyes and fracturing his orbital bone around the eye.

As loathsome as many of the statements of Boris Johnson are, no one deserves to suffer as Mr Wagner did at the hands of any Police service. It is a terrible tragedy but occasionally our Police Officers are required to use lethal force if there is a prospect that other people may be hurt if this force is not used. Police Officers carry batons that if deployed are capable of inflicting a great deal of pain on the person on the receiving end. However only in exceptional circumstances do the Police and those they are engaging with lose face to face contact in the way that a water cannon would achieve. The provision of this equipment is not universally supported by Police Officers. Peter Neyroud, a former Chief Constable of the Thames Valley and an Institute of Criminology expert, said that Water cannon would not have helped quell the 2011 riots, the tactic would have been of little use in dealing with disorder in parts of England during the summer of 2011. “If you look at lessons learnt as a result of the London riots, not many of them related to having water cannon.” It is to the Thames Valley that Sussex usually looks to obtain horses for the occasional public order requirements (since they sold off the Sussex Police horses). Unlike the water cannon, the horses are always a delight to see, despite the distressing context.

The inclination of some of Politicians to change their views when the facts or circumstances change is to be commended. That is much closer to the way in which most of us think than some form of robotic, lady is not for turning nonsense. However there are limits to how often such changes can take place before the individual appears to be allowing the wind to set their opinions. Theresa May as Home Secretary must give her consent for the use of the water cannon on the streets of the UK outside of Northern Ireland where there are 6 units available to the Chief Constable. In 2010 she said the government would look at all options – although use of water cannon would be a police operational decision – before backtracking in the Commons and telling MPs: “I don’t think anybody wants to see water cannon used … because we have a different attitude to the culture of policing here”. It remains to be seen whether Boris and Nick Ferrari get their hosing down? My personal view is that this sort of equipment is neither suited to our mainland policing, nor is it needed, although we do need to find ways of protecting our Police Officers and bystanders from the impact of disorder on our streets during events such as the annual March for England in Brighton.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
This entry was posted in Parliament and Democracy, Policing, UK Riots in August 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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