The number of police in London has been almost trebled, with contingents brought in from as far away as Wales and Durham. Additional deployments can also be expected in Manchester and the West Midlands, following the disturbances on Tuesday night. Regrettably, however, political leaders seem to be competing to show who is toughest on policing. The Mayor, Boris Johnson, stood by his pre-riots insistence that police numbers had to be maintained. David Cameron, for his part, while not exactly retracting plans for cuts in spending on the police, promised: "Whatever resources the police need, they will get." He held out the prospect of water cannon and plastic bullets.
Now, of course, is not the time for any politician even to hint of cuts in police numbers; this would be political suicide. Equally, though, it would be wrong for ministers to yield to the clamour for new spending, whether on additional officers or equipment.
There is, as there has long been, public pressure for more visible and tougher policing. There are also influential lobbies, not least the police themselves, which will not be averse to using the riots to press their cause. But public dissatisfaction with the initial response of the Met to the riots derived not only from the clear shortage of numbers in many of the affected areas, but from what was seen as the passivity of those who were there.
It may be that planned cuts in spending on the police should be reviewed in the light of recent events. Good policing, though, depends not just on raw numbers, but on visibility, organisation and tactics. Successive reviews have identified ways in which money could be used much more effectively than it is. Ministers should not be panicked into commitments to new resources before they are satisfied that the most is being made of the old.Reuse content