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Policing lessons from England's riots

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Policing lessons from England's riots

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The trigger for England’s worst public disorder for nearly a quarter of a century was the botched police operation in London in which 29-year-old Mark Duggan was shot dead, and the insensitivity that police then showed his family in the immediate aftermath.

Claudia Webbe is an independent adviser to the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Trident. In the 1990s it was set up to build bridges with the black community and in particular, tackle gun crime – where disproportionate numbers of both victims and perpetrators were black.

Specialist officers from Operation Trident were involved in the attempted arrest which led to Mark Duggan’s death.

Alasdair Sandford, euronews:

“The Independent Police Complaints Commission said there was no evidence that Mark Duggan fired at police before he was shot himself. First of all, how significant is that?”

Claudia Webbe:

“Well that is quite significant and goes to the heart of why there was a family who was aggrieved and who were grieving for their lost one, and were engaged in a peaceful protest.

They went for answers and they didn’t get those answers initially and it took some 48 hours for them to even have contact, as I understand, to provide basic information following what is actually a death in custody.

And so it seems as though issues that arose in the 1980s have revisited this community in today’s age.”

euronews:

“Now the violence we’ve seen since the weekend in other parts of London, and now in other cities across England, seems to go way beyond anything to do with just Mark Duggan’s case. How do you explain what is happening?”

Claudia Webbe:

“Well ever since that fatal Thursday night, there has been this tension bubbling in the community… a tension that relates to people’s circumstances and a tension which relates to what people perceive as an historical treatment, long before the death of Mark Duggan. The “stop and search” that young people were facing, the disproportionality of that “stop and search”, they felt that they were overpoliced as criminals, and underpoliced as victims.”

euronews:

“But a lot of the rioters – and many of them are white as well as black – don’t seem to be responding to issues concerning policing. They’ve been described as “wanton criminals”, just jumping in on the bandwagon, seeing an opportunity to cause havoc?”

Claudia Webbe:

“Sure, but what I’m trying to describe is a relationship whereby there has been a breakdown between the police and young people generally, and that’s white and black young people. And their relationship with the police has been one of ‘stop and search’. There were other tensions that were building up, and that’s unemployment: a lot of young people don’t see a future ahead, they feel marginalised, they feel that they operate on the edge of society.”

euronews:

“As far as the policing of the rioting is concerned, in the past the police have been accused of being too aggressive, too tough. Now they’re being accused of being too lenient. How do you see that?”

Claudia Webbe:

“The police were in a sense, not ready, they weren’t aware, they weren’t prepared on Saturday. They doubled their resources, but I don’t think they still quite understood the scale of the problem, they didn’t quite understand that this would spread, and they didn’t quite understand the power of social media, of Blackberry Messenger, the people that are inciting young people to pick up arms and take to the streets.

The police have powers to use force, but the only way that force works is by the consent of the community, because they’re outnumbered. They’ve got to remember to work in partnership with the community.”