People have lots of ideas about tactics that should be used to quell the mobs. Some of the most common ideas, though,aren’t very good.
This is because we keep talking about the “riots”, but what’s happened the last few days aren’t really riots. They have no political cause, no demands, no agenda. They have no single target, They are, on the whole, small groups of people out to steal and smash and burn. If the police protect shops then they’ll burn cars. When the fire brigade comes, they’ll leave and go back to looting shops.
Considering these robberies as “riots” had led some people to suggest that the police need to use the traditional tools of quelling riots. These are the wrong tools for the actual situation.
Water cannons are a crowd-control measure that has never been us in mainland Britain. They are a bit like giant hoses on the front of armoured vehicles which pump out water under high pressure, and they look a bit like tanks. People near to the cannon will be pushed back and might be knocked off their feet. People further away will get wet. Water cannon can be used to break a large charging mob or a driven towards a stationary mob to disperse them.
Water cannons are pretty useless against small fast-moving groups of people who don’t really care where they cause trouble. They’re too big, too slow and too targeted. If they’re deployed at one end of a street the looters will hit the other end. If they deploy at both ends, the looters will hit the next street.
Tear Gas is an irritating gas; it makes you cry, your eyes sting and it can even blind in high enough concentrations. It’s actually a fine powder, so when people rub their eyes they make it worse.
Tear gas can disperse crowds if it’s shot into the middle of them, but this can be dangerous to do unless the crowd is able to get away. It can also be used as a defensive measure to stop protesters crossing past a line.
Tear gas is more mobile than water cannon so it can be deployed more easily. But ultimately, it suffers from the same core problem – it moves on the looters down the street, or to the next street. It doesn’t stop them, arrest them or deter them overall.
This is just a rubbish idea, for two reasons:
- How are police going to enforce a curfew if they don’t have the numbers to police the mobs at the moment? People will break the curfew and be emboldened to start stealing.
- Curfews are to stop trouble at night. Yesterday the looting started before 4pm. I feel like a lunchtime curfew isn’t really an option
(inspired by a good tweet from David Aaronovitch)