Scale of riots 'surprised police'

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard could train more than double the current number of officers in public order policing to cope with any future riots, police chiefs said today.

Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin admitted the scale of the riots caught police by surprise, adding he wanted to see double the number of specially-trained officers in future.

The tactics police could use to quell the violence and looting during the riots was limited by the number of officers available on the streets, he told MPs.

But increasing the number of trained officers from just over 2,500 to 10,000 would cost £8 million, Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens said.

She warned that this could mean that these officers would be out of their communities dealing with public order.

"In the context of what we've seen, that may be the right decision to make," she said.

"But it's that decision that I'll be putting to the management board to say, 'Where do we want to draw the level?'

"And it's not just, 'What does the Met need?', it's 'What does the country need?"'

Ms Owens is currently looking into how many more officers should be trained.

Giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Godwin said: "I would not be surprised if she doubled it, which is a hint.

"I think for us, in terms of force mobilisation, we will need more level two.

"Looking ahead at what might come in the future, I think we're going to need to increase it."

He went on: "We had a full range of tactics we could employ. It was purely numbers that was the inhibitor.

The scale of the riots, with serious disturbances in 22 boroughs on one night, "took us by surprise", he said.

"I think the issue of, 'Where are all the cops?', is an issue we're going to be confronting in the next 12 months, in terms of maximising our footprint and getting those numbers out there.

"I think there is an issue about how many we've got that are level two public order trained, in terms of do we need to increase that? All those of course have a cost."

Mr Godwin added that the first 43 officers would be commended on Thursday for extreme bravery in the circumstances they faced during the riots.

Asked if the public order training manual was good enough, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), warned against rushing to make changes with undue haste.

But he said all officers were willing to put themselves in harm's way to protect the public.

And he compared the actions of one chief superintendent who led a baton charge down Sutton High Street in Surrey during the riots to that of officers who used dustbin lids as makeshift shields during disturbances at the Notting Hill Carnival in the 1970s.

A review of public order policing by Sir Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, would establish if there were any gaps that needed to be filled, he said.