Patrick Mercer: We must restore police confidence

Officers have become risk averse

Related Topics

On Thursday, I watched the Commons heave a sigh of relief. It was as though a particularly nasty smell had wafted under MPs' noses, hung around longer than it should and then dispersed, thank goodness, so allowing us to get on with the serious business of summer holidays. But we might just as well have wrung our hands and reached the same conclusions that we did four days ago after the G20 drama or the university fees' riots last winter. For, as some of us have been warning, violent, public protest co-ordinated by social media tools is here to stay.

So what are we going to do about it? Clearly, prevention is better than cure, but while the economy, family structures, public attitudes and mores – what some would call Broken Britain – may be curable, that is not going to happen overnight. Similarly, while freedom of speech is vital, so is harmony and public safety, and perhaps there's a lesson to be learnt from what happened after 9/11. Much draconian and ultimately unused legislation was rushed on to the statute book after that disaster, but the thoughtful counter-terrorism strategy, Project Contest, took some time to devise, part of that project being the "Prevent" strategy.

We should take the existing work on gangs, knife crime, the gamut of social deprivation, roll them together and come up with a similar concept for solving the causes of unrest. While that matures, we are left with a bundle of new measures – laws to forbid the wearing of masks and the re-affirmation of the use of water cannon and baton rounds as examples – to allow our officers to hold the ring.

All of that will help, so long as the police have the confidence to use them. For instance, CS gas and rubber bullets are used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland with hardly a hair being turned. Yet such weapons have yet to be employed on the mainland, despite being available and sanctioned. I've used both in Ulster and their effect is salutary, but I cannot understand why we treat Irish thugs differently from English ones. And that's really the point. The G20s, uni fees protests and what we might call the Chav Riots of last week will continue unless the police have the confidence and the political backing to use the powers they already have.

On top of that, if Charlie Gilmour can receive a swingeing sentence for high-profile, if relatively slight crimes, so must the rioters. People loathe going to prison, especially for crimes committed on a whim, so let's see no more of the derisory sentences that courts are handing down to some rioters: if the coalition means what it says about deterrence and punishment, then the Justice Secretary needs to change his approach. Similarly, the e-petition says it all: cut benefits for those who are convicted. The simplicity is admirable.

After four nights of fraught nihilism, the gang leaders were probably exhausted (and God's water cannon, rain, helped), but what really told was police numbers. London was only swamped by dint of officers being drafted in from other forces, but such expensive efforts can only be sustained for a short time. While there are reforms to police practices that could make them cheaper and less bureaucratic, helmets on the street are crucial. That's why any cut to deployable police numbers must be resisted at all costs.

Britain has excellent police officers, but the last government's unreasonable scrutiny, excessive interference and "health and safety culture" have made them risk averse. Our officers already have the powers and tools to deter and control riots, but are they forced to spend all their time looking over their shoulders. If we want safe streets, we must restore police confidence.

Patrick Mercer, a former infantryman and BBC defence journalist, is Tory MP for Newark

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little