My blogs have, up until now, been about policing contentious protest. However, the past week has seen news reports of convictions for those involved in disorder (BBC News 31/05; Police Oracle 31/05) and reports of further arrests linked to it. Colleagues of mine were deployed in the aftermath of these incidents when the slumbering leviathan that is PNICC woke up and dispatched resources from across the UK to help. This blog is not an academic examination, that has been done most excellently in Mad Mobs and English Men and Reading the Riots, but a personal reflection on the disorder.
My good friend, Michael Brown, @MentalHealthCop, has stated that he will never forget the night of the 9th of August, when he worked during the disorder in Birmingham and shots were fired at Police Officers and petrol bombs thrown.
My involvement is much more mundane, on the 8th August, having watched disorder in Tottenham spread across London, I packed my children up for a family holiday in a remote part of the borders. Settled down, we headed to the nearby town for some shopping where I met a public order colleague who had just been told to pack as she was heading South in the morning. Later, as we sat watching the news, Facebook came alive with ‘I’ve had the call’, ‘I’ve not, why?’ as public order colleagues across the country began to answer the call to arms. Those on early deployments recount stories of belligerent police commanders taking the fight onto the streets, refusing to ‘die in a ditch,’ intent on winning the war.
The following day, whilst heading into England my phone rang ‘Can you come back, we have to send more officers.’ Much soul searching later, the decision. I respect and support my colleagues, I will stand up in the face of a lion or a rioting mob, but my heart wouldn’t allow me to tell three small children their holiday was cancelled.
Instead I spent days and nights on social media following the hash tags, the moving accounts of those involved and watching BBC News 24 24/7. Police officers on twitter and blogs moved us with tales of the fight back, early morning arrests, 20 hour shifts and the kindness and support of communities who fed, watered and cheered officers. Policing for the community by the community returned in the face of adversity as public support for the police reached an all time high. Communities opened rest centres where weary members of the emergency services could eat and drink, while others took to the streets with brushes and shovels to clear up the streets. Police manuals talk about the return to ‘normality’ or a ‘new normality,’ post riot this included increased police/community relations and stronger bonds within our communities. One of my colleagues, deployed to the West Midlands area, tells a story of a queue forming outside the police station as mothers brought sons down to hand themselves in and confess to their involvement.
A week later, as the dust began to settle, I was working when my phone rang again, ‘PNICC have asked for another PSU, can you go to London?’ I spent the day resourcing a PSU then departed south in a convoy of 20 public order carriers. My five day trip to London involved mainly public re-assurance patrols of Charing Cross and Westminster taking the Scottish style of policing into the heart of London. I have never been so photographed, but continued to be deeply moved by stories of the sacrifices made by cops who worked 20 hour shifts, slept in the locker room for 2 hours and returned to duty for another 20 hour shift, who didn’t see their families for 7 days.
The disorder proved to be a tipping point in police use of social media, several forces made great pro-active use of it to prevent or disrupt disorder and the subsequent report by the Metropolitan Police ‘4 Days in August’ acknowledges that they should have made more pro-active use of social media.