Monday, 15 August 2011

UK Riots: Lessons to be learned; Role for US crime guru?





Lessons to be learned

Comment by LOURDES CHARLES

The perceived police inaction during the riots in Britain has shone a light on our own cops' response to protests here.

ANY Malaysian watching the riots in London and other cities in England must have asked what were the British police doing? Why did they restrain themselves? So much so, that people around the globe were wondering how the hooligans were allowed to carry out such criminal acts of looting, robbery and assault.

In some scenes, the police were seen retreating and reports estimate that no fewer than 100 policemen were injured and at least five police dogs hurt by these thugs.

The authorities there did practically nothing, allowing the yobs and rioters to set fire to shops,  supermarkets and other business outlets, while others looted, assaulted and robbed passers-by.

No water cannons were used nor were there mass arrests made during the incident.

Only after four days did the police there act by deploying 16,000 personnel to patrol the streets in their bid to maintain law and order. They have arrested more than 1,000 people but not before three people were killed with losses amounting to millions of pounds.

These young criminals may have issues with unemployment and a sense of hopelessness in England where inflation, slow growth and budget cuts have hurt them but that is no excuse for their acts of violence.

Only the most diehard bleeding liberals would want to blame the system for the criminal acts of these opportunists.



Their targets, as we saw, were ironically the neighbourhood shops people they knew and small businesses that have provided jobs to the people.

To smash, loot and burn these shops is hard to comprehend.

One looter was even quoted as saying: “It's us versus them, the police and the system.”

“They call it looting and criminality. It's not that. There's a real hatred towards the system,” he said.

The British riots have generated a debate with the social media here comparing the police's handling of the looting and arson there and the Malaysian police's action over the Bersih 2.0 protest, where water cannons and tear-gas were used.

More than 1,000 people were arrested here amid allegations of police brutality. The roadblocks set up ahead of the rally also led to public complaints.

Some said it was unfair to link the British riots with Bersih 2.0, as there was no damage to public property in Kuala Lumpur. To make comparisons, the argument goes, would not be fair.

Police operations in any part of the world would always be subject to scrutiny, as civil society becomes a crucial part of a growing democracy.

From discussions on British TV, the sentiment is that the police did not want to be too robust in confronting the rioters for fear of being criticised, as has happened in the past.

Many were worried that their superiors would not back them if there was a public backlash. No policeman would want to risk losing his position and pension over such controversies. They have the power and authority but feared exercising them.

Civil lawsuits against the police by aggrieved parties, including burglars, are a norm there.

Even now London police are bracing themselves for another possible suit by some 5,000 demonstrators who took part during the G20 protests in April 2009 in the now infamous “kettling” case.

The demonstrators may sue Scotland Yard for false imprisonment as judges found that the mass detention (preventing them from nearing the summit area) for five hours was an unlawful deprivation of liberty under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Human rights are so stringent there that even a suspected burglar who was chased by a police dog and bitten is said to be suing the police. Never mind that the stolen loot was found on him and he was charged with burglary.

He is expected to be compensated with about 50,000 (RM245,000) for his injuries.

Some of us here would cry out that it is a case of excessive democracy and abuse of human rights. Demonstrators have their rights to protest but those who suffer losses have their rights, too. So it came as no surprise that the public in Britain is outraged at the response to the rioters.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and London mayor Boris Johnson were filmed on television being scolded by the public for the slow action against the yobs, the British term for hooligans.

Most of us must have been outraged to see how the young criminals taunt the policemen while openly breaking into shops. We would have expected immediate arrests, not days after the looting.

There is also a lesson which the British policemen as well as the PDRM can learn from this episode. Social media was used extensively in the riots. Young people knew in advance where people could gather to make trouble via Twitter and Blackberry Messenger but the police were unaware of it.

They were so clueless that many wondered why the police did not show up in potentially explosive areas.

There seems to be a shift in public opinion since the recent anarchy following a series of seemingly peaceful protests which turned violent such as the G20 in April 2009 as well as the Nov 10, 2010 student fees protest where open clashes took place in the streets of central London. Now they want their police to be more assertive in carrying out their duties.

Even Prime Minister David Cameron has now told the police that they should adopt a more robust approach and has given them the green light to use water cannons and rubber bullets to quell the rioters.

The British incident serves as a lesson for us here. Preventive measures are good and though we sometimes criticise what is termed as highhanded action by the police, at least the cops here are doing a decent job in keeping law and order.


Britain's top cop slams UK role for US crime guru

LONDON (AP) - Tensions between Britain's government and police leaders flared Saturday over Prime Minister David Cameron's recruitment of a veteran American police commander to advise him on how to combat gangs and prevent a repeat of the past week's riots.

The criticism, led by Association of Chief Police Officers leader Sir Hugh Orde, underscored deep tensions between police and Cameron's coalition government over who was most to blame for the failure to stop the four-day rioting that raged in parts of London and other English cities until Wednesday.

Cameron criticized police tactics as too timid and announced he would seek policy guidance from William Bratton, former commander of police forces in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. British police have branded the move misguided and an insult to their professionalism.

"I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them," Orde said of Los Angeles, which the 63-year-old Bratton oversaw until 2009.

"It seems to me, if you've got 400 gangs, then you're not being very effective. If you look at the style of policing in the states, and their levels of violence, they are fundamentally different from here," said Orde, a former commander of Northern Ireland's police and deputy commander of London's Metropolitan Police. Orde made his comments to the Independent on Sunday newspaper.

The riots row overshadowed a day of peace on England's streets and continued progress in processing more than 2,100 riot suspects arrested so far, mostly in London, in unprecedented round-the-clock court sessions.

In England's second-largest city of Birmingham, prosecutors charged two males with the murder of three men in a hit-and-run attack Wednesday, the deadliest event during the past week's urban mayhem.

Both males - identified as Joshua Donald, 26, and a 17-year-old whose name was withheld because of his juvenile status - were being arraigned Sunday at Birmingham Magistrates Court on three counts each of murder.

The breakthrough by a team of 70 detectives came less than four days after Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, were mortally wounded when a car struck them at high speed. The trio had been part of a larger group standing guard in front of a row of Pakistani-owned shops.

The killings threatened to ignite clashes between the area's South Asian and black gangs, but the father of Haroon Jahan made a series of impressively composed public statements in the hours after his son's death pleading for forgiveness, racial harmony and no retaliation.

Hours before Saturday's murder charges were announced, the father, Tariq Jahan, told journalists at a Birmingham news conference he had received thousands of letters from well-wishers worldwide.

"I would like to thank the community, especially the young people, for listening to what I have to say and staying calm," said Jahan, 46, a delivery driver for an electronics chain.

Police in London were continuing to interrogate several suspects linked to the riots' two other killings: of a 26-year-old man shot to death in a car after a high-speed chase involving a rival group of men, and a 68-year-old loner who was beaten to death after arguing with rioters and trying to extinguish a fire they had set.

England's forces of law and order have been on the defensive over their slow initial response to riots that rapidly spread Aug. 6 from the north London district of Tottenham to several London flashpoints and, eventually, to Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and other cities with high gang activity.

But police leaders mounted a series of critical interviews Saturday underscoring their view that Cameron was jumping the gun by seeking foreign advice at a time when his debt-hit government was pressing ahead with plans to cut police budgets by 20 percent.

Leaders of the police unions in London and the northwest city of Manchester - which dealt relatively harshly with rioters and quelled trouble there in one night - stressed that Cameron needed to listen to their expertise first, rather than seek to apply lessons from America's better-armed, more aggressive approach to policing.

"America polices by force. We don't want to do that in this country," said Paul Deller of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents more than 30,000 officers in the British capital.

Deller, a 25-year Met officer, accused the government of not being serious about following Bratton's recipe for reducing crime.

"When Mr. Bratton was in New York and Los Angeles, the first thing he did was to increase the number of police on the street, whereas we've got a government that wants to do exactly the opposite," he said, warning that planned budget cuts would mean 2,000 officers lose their jobs in London and thousands more nationwide.

Ian Hanson, chairman of the federation's Manchester branch, said local officers knew better how to police their own communities than "someone who lives 5,000 miles away."

Results of an opinion poll published Sunday suggested stronger public support for the police than for Cameron's approach to the crisis.

The poll, commissioned jointly by British newspapers Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday, found that 61 percent thought Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues were too slow to end their foreign summer holidays following last weekend's outbreak of violence. Cameron returned to London from his break in Italy's Tuscany region Tuesday, after almost all of the London rioting had passed.

And strong majorities backed greater support and resources for the police, calling for planned budget cuts to be put on hold. About 65 percent said British troops should be used to reinforce police in event of future riots, while even heavier majorities said police should be permitted to use water cannon and plastic bullets against rioters and impose curfews on unruly communities. All of those measures have been used to control street violence in the British territory of Northern Ireland but never in Britain itself.

The survey of 2,008 people, conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, had an error margin of 3 percentage points.

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