Last summer, I wrote about how the Government needed to do more to get a grip on public order policing. Last night’s ‘Kill the Bill’ riot in Bristol won’t have dissuaded many people of the importance of this.
But whilst new powers are welcome – the right to protest should not extend to a perceived right to bring our cities to a halt – it will remain a job half-done if the Home Office don’t take steps to ensure the police are more pro-active and consistent in wielding them.
As we suggested last time, one way in which Priti Patel could do this would be to pursue reform at the institutional level, specifically by separating out public order policing from community policing and setting up a specialist force to handle it. This could be simply done by spinning off the Territorial Support Group from the Metropolitan Police and using it as the core for a new, national constabulary.
This would allow for a new, more focused institutional and operational culture; allow for the purchase of specialised equipment (such as less-flammable vans) without having to ‘militarise’ the regular police; and create a chance for more democratic input into how we respond to major public order incidents whilst still leaving actual command in the hands of the professionals.
Meanwhile the regular forces could focus on their duties without their community role being undermined by discharging the necessarily adversarial duty of riot control. The Met, in particular, would benefit from losing its remaining national functions so it can focus on being London’s police service.
Would such reforms breach Peel’s famous Principles of Policing, and the British tradition of policing by consent? No. As we explained last year, anyone who actually reads what Sir Robert wrote can see that he actually mandates effective and pro-active physical-force policing when other measures prove insufficient to maintain order and uphold the law. And ‘consent’ has always meant the consent of the public, who consistently support tougher measures, not the consent of the rioters.