Are the police are losing control of the streets?
Halloween carnage, officers attacked by schoolchildren, others stabbed as knife crime escalates. It begs the question: whose streets?
Warning: This post contains pictures that some readers may find disturbing.
It is just over a week since Amber Rudd made her first major policing speech to an audience consisting largely of the great and the good (or not so good) of British policing, namely police and crime commissioners together with very senior police officers.
Ms Rudd’s speech followed a similar pattern to those of her predecessor, Theresa May. There was some faint praise for brave police, the usual less than favourable comments about ‘racist’ stop and searches; has no-one yet shown her a montage of London’s fatal stabbing and shooting victims?
The audience also had to endure the familiar, now totally discredited mantra, that ‘police reform is working, crime is down.’
Much of her speech however focussed on the subliminal message that, for months, has been promulgated by the College of Policing and ‘Police Now,’ namely that most of the current police workforce are as thick as two short planks and intelligent young graduates would be a far better bet.
Some senior officers must have overdosed on the sherry trifle the evening before the conference commenced as there were some early mutinous mutterings that the cuts were unsustainable and the current level of service given by police couldn’t be maintained.
Arguably however, the most crucial question which should have occupied most of the conference time is whether the weary, fractured thinning blue line is slowly but inexorably losing control of the streets.
The bloody aftermath of a London street stabbing.
Denigration makes officers vulnerable
Linked to this is the argument, prevalent in both the United States and the United Kingdom, that constant, unbalanced denigration of police officers by politicians and sections of the press significantly increases the dangers faced by front line police officers on the streets.
Footage of Metropolitan police officers being attacked by schoolchildren in New Cross, as they attempted to detain a youth in possession of a knife sent some shockwaves through the public as did the stabbing of a plain clothes officer in Bow. As I began to draft this piece, news broke concerning the stabbing of an off-duty police officer in Leeds as he attempted to detain a shoplifter. The same day two Met officers based at Islington managed to arrest an individual who attempted to both stab and pour boiling water over them.
Doubtless these incidents will be quickly forgotten, especially by politicians and those Home Office mandarins who would be more at home in an episode of ‘Yes Minister.’
In fact, as assaults on police continue to grow, the incidents referred to above are merely symptoms of a deteriorating situation as demands on police continue to increase while numbers and resources diminish.
Image: Officers confronting youths at the Hyde Park ‘water fight’ disorder.
The savage onslaught on police just over a year ago at a Lambeth rave was indeed ominous. Missile throwing from a distance, the normal response to an unwanted police presence, was not the order of the day as thugs launched themselves at police in bitter hand to hand fighting.
More police injuries were later suffered at raves and so called block parties on the streets of Barking, Walthamstow, Clapham and Stamford Hill.
The Queen must have been somewhat taken aback on Derby Day at Epsom as riot police had to separate gangs of warring youths. Arguably the most serious disorder of the summer occurred at Hyde Park where hundreds of youths materialised for a ‘water fight’ and a ‘bashment party.’ Five people were stabbed including a police officer while a nearby MacDonald’s was trashed. Horrific You Tube video emerged of one youth attempting to stab another.
The new school term saw further disorder in South East London as gangs, reportedly divided on racial lines, battled on Northumberland Heath and surrounding streets.
The sheer scale of problems faced by police across the UK were perhaps best illustrated by events over the Halloween/Guy Fawkes period. Merseyside had already witnessed frightening examples of two wheeled anarchy wrought on their streets by reckless riders of scrambler bikes, scooters, mopeds and motor bikes. Over Halloween similar incidents occurred in Leeds, Birmingham and London and whilst some arrests were made and bikes seized, most riders involved in what could only be described as disgraceful scenes escaped retribution.
However, this paled into insignificance when set against the concerted attacks that took place on police and indeed other emergency service personnel during the this period. These attacks occurred across the country in both cities and towns as officers were pelted with fireworks and other missiles. Many of these incidents are still viewable on horrendous You Tube footage.
Image: Police officers treat a stabbing victim in south London.
Arguably one of the greatest challenges facing front line officers in our cities and now towns is the unhealthy mix of knife, gun, gang and other violent youth crime.
Dealing with the victims of knife crime has become a regular feature for front line officers in many of our urban areas and ‘dealing’ often means the trauma attempting to keep the victim alive until the arrival of paramedics.
At a recent knife crime conference in London, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s announcement that gang related knife crime accounted for a tiny percentage of all knife crime in London was greeted with incredulity by those quite outstanding individuals who attempt to steer young people away from gangs. The only other explanation was that some form of zombie like plague was afflicting sections of London’s youth.
Everything became clear however shortly afterwards when it was revealed that almost 80% of stabbings in London reported to police were unsolved. These figures don’t include non- life threatening/changing stabbings not reported to police which are treated amongst a well-established back street cottage industry or self-treated with super-glue.
Criticism of ‘racist’ police stop and search by Theresa May, David Cameron and even the Met’s own commissioner duly led to a reduction which in turn has seen an increase in stabbings. Despite Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe flip flopping on the issue and subsequent police operations, the knife genie is proving very difficult to force back into the sheath.
Of course, it’s not just London that has a gang/violent crime problem. Merseyside and Manchester also have severe gang problems while Salford periodically resembles the wild west yet, of course, controversy surrounding stop and search is less evident in these and other towns and cities where the gangs are predominately white. The sad fact is that knife crime is becoming a nationwide problem regardless of demographics.
Yet as demanding and draining as these issues are, officers are also facing increasing street confrontations, abuse and assaults which are adding to undoubted stress felt by those on the front line. Cuts mean single crewing is more prevalent and back up further away while support provided by dog and helicopter units is becoming more and more problematic.
As stated above the deteriorating attitude of these lawless individuals towards police is doubtless encouraged by hostile comments from politicians of the both the right and left and large sections of the press. If the ‘establishment’ shows little respect or gratitude towards police, why should the thug?
Lectures from politicians such as Theresa May as to the need for police to gain public confidence can only be viewed as sheer hypocrisy in the light of the recent IPSOS ‘Trust Survey’ which shows the much-denigrated police at a commendable 71% while government ministers manage 20% and politicians generally languish at an abysmal 15%.
It says much that a recent House of Commons debate on police safety, commendably called by MP Holly Lynch, saw more than 600 MP’s failing to attend. Holly Lynch herself experienced at first hand dangers faced by police whilst on a ‘ridealong;’ she had to call for ‘urgent assistance’ when the single crewed officer found himself in difficulty.
A ‘banana skin’ occupation
Added to the mix is the very real fear that policing is becoming very much a ‘banana skin’ occupation. A decision made in a split second can have ramifications that can last for months or years with the real possibility that the luckless officer will end up facing a jury. Even where the jury finds the officer not guilty, there could be a second bite at the cherry in terms of the police disciplinary process which could still see that officer losing his or her job.
A CID officer juggling perhaps as many as forty cases only needs to take his eye away from one to experience similar ramifications. Officers of all ranks know that waiting in the background are the discredited, malevolent Independent Police Complaints Commission who have managed to lose the confidence of both police and public.
Assaults on police are currently running at some 24,000 a year and doubtless the toll would be higher were it not for the ‘roll out’ of tasers. Meanwhile, as stated above, the extent of stress related sickness is reaching alarming proportions.
Doubtless the HIMC report on the Met’s child protection issues will provide more ammunition for drunken yobs and police loathing journalists who regard officers as objects who can be verbally and physically abused and demeaned.
It’s a shame the HMIC inspection failed to mention despairing child protection officers breaking down in tears as they struggle to cope with ridiculous workloads compounded by inadequate training, leadership and a chaotic safeguarding multi-agency bureaucracy. Quite how the next Met commissioner will now find officers willing to undertake these most demanding and emotionally draining roles is a mystery likely to be exacerbated by the Home Secretary’s announcement that all CSA investigators will have to be ‘licensed.’
The distressing accounts of child abuse in football which will probably extend to other sports may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back as far as far as many forces are concerned as they scramble to abstract hard pressed officers from their normal duties to investigate these allegations.
Meanwhile the question remains: whose streets?
(Metropolitan Police 1978 to 2011)
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