One senior police officer put it like this: "I realise that journalists and politicians are blessed with powers of perfect hindsight but at every stage our response to these riots has been proportionate and appropriate. Frankly, I don't think we could have handled this any better."
This is not a view which would be shared by people who have had their homes and shops looted and burnt. It is certainly not shared by David Cameron who has tried to ride the wave of public anger. But, nonetheless, it is probably true.
Think back to the first riots in north London last Saturday night. The trigger for these was the shooting dead by armed officers of a young black man near the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham.
For those in command, with the riots of 25 years ago in the back of their minds, this was not just about criminality. "Going in hard" risked inflaming tensions, after decades of trying to build better relations. Much better to watch, video and contain than to order running battles which would put lives at risk.
Move on to the rioting on Sunday and Monday nights. Surely, the argument goes, police should have flooded London with officers then?
Unfortunately just as most politicians are away in August so are many police officers. The only way to boost numbers was to call people back from leave or bring in other forces to help. At a time of significant budget cuts chief police officers took a calculated risk. Did they pay for the overtime, accommodation and transport costs for 2,000 standby officers and then cut funding to community policing to pay for it or work with what they had? It may have been the wrong decision – but it is an understandable one.
Then there is the question of tactics. Why didn't police arrest the rioters rather than allowing them to run amok? They had limited resources and arresting people ties officers up with paperwork when they're better off on the street.
The difference between Monday and Tuesday nights was the political decision (and the promise to pay for it) of flooding London with officers. It worked – and might have worked sooner. But it's hard to blame the police for this.Reuse content