Claims made by police spokesmen on BBC News 24 that police are “confused” about what level of force they can use and that this is making it difficult for them to deal with rioters need to be taken with a huge pile of salt. The line they’re pushing is that in the past police have ended up in court for simply trying to prevent crimes. They know that’s a lie. The only police who ended up in court or fired were those involved in the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes after massive incompetence by senior officers given the power of life and death over others; and others like the officer who repeatedly assaulted bypasser Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests; the officer who attacked the loud but tiny environmentalist protester Nicola Fisher with a baton (and got off with it) ; and the officer who dragged a prisoner across a police station before throwing her face down into a cell.
Others who should be facing charges of grievous bodly harm and endangering lives have got off with it. They include the policeman who beat peaceful student protester Alfie Meadows so hard with a baton that he would have died if he hadn’t had emergency brain surgery – and the officers who tried to turn the ambulance carrying him away from the nearest hospital as protesters being treated in the same hospital as injured police offended their sensibilities (presumably on the usual theory held by the stupidest and worst police officers that all protesters are criminals).
Some police spokesmen are trying to use the riots to reverse planned job and funding cuts. That’s fair enough. I support increasing the number of police and i'd guess most people do. However they’re also using them to try to demand a blank cheque to use any amount of force they feel like in any situation and to try to get the public to place them above the law. That won’t wash.
If they’re confused about how much force they can use when they’re not up to the job – they can use what the law allows – the amount required to defend themselves and others and to prevent serious crimes – and no more.
No blank cheques to beat up anyone they like.
The initial rioting in Tottenham seems to have been caused by police shooting Mark Duggan (who may or may not have been armed but we now know definitely did not fire first – or at all) and by fifteen riot police subsequently beating a single 16 year old girl who was one of a large group of family, friends and neighbours of Duggan demanding answers from them, after she threw a leaflet and possibly a stone. That underlines the fact that giving the police a blank cheque to do as they please and believing them without question (even though their spokespeople lied about De Menezes , Tomlinson and other cases) will not make the public safer or reduce crime, but is likely to cause it instead.
The police know that when they act in self-defence or the defence of others with the amount of force necessary in the situation they’ll have public support and be acting within the law. They have to be in no more doubt than the rioters that they can’t launch random attacks on people or break the law without facing consequences. If the police were allowed to be above the law, it would only breed contempt for it and them, which would be bad for everyone.