Sir Hugh Orde: Water cannon make for good headlines – and bad policing

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Policing is a complex and challenging world at the best of times, and when situations such as those we have been dealing with this week arise out of the ether, it is unsurprising that responses are not immediate or perfect.

I remain convinced the British model – based on consent, with police largely unarmed, and built up from the grass roots of neighbourhood policing – will prevail.

The decisions around tactics are, and must always be, for the chief constables and their officers, it is as simple as that. Chiefs understand the challenges because they have all served substantial apprenticeships in the profession, and have been highly trained to make these calls.

Having authorised the deployment of both water cannon and baton rounds, I remain clear that they have a vital place in our armoury, but only when proportionate and appropriate to the situation we face. In stark terms, without extremely violent and static crowds, they are useless.

Baton rounds are discriminate weapons: you fire them at individuals who pose a violent threat where life is at risk. They are not for firing indiscriminately at individuals on the move, however popular such a move would be with the public.

Equally, to suggest human rights get in the way of effective policing is simply wrong. The proportionate use of force up to and including lethal force is both lawful and human rights compliant.

In the longer term, the service does face challenges linked to the 20 per cent funding cuts. It will get more challenging as the efficiencies get harder to find in the latter years of the spending review, but my colleagues remain determined to do all we can to keep people safe.

The overwhelming majority of law-abiding and concerned citizens have a right to expect us to keep them safe and these criminals will be dealt with. They will be dealt with by an independent police service using tactics that work, supported by an independent judiciary which will decide on the sanction.

That is the British system. It is respected and copied throughout the world, and to subordinate it in the search for a short-term impact would be wrong.

The author is president of the Association of Chief Police Officers

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