After the summer riots in cities across the UK, the government decided to take a hardline stance in relation to policing. David Cameron announced that police would have water cannons available at 24 hours notice, if the police wished to use them. Even now many of us are still trying to understand what exactly happened this summer and why it was able to spiral out of control so fast. The police largely stood by and watched while Tottenham went up in flames, leaving two police cars on the street, unlocked and abandoned while the violence slowly escalated. Youths started by throwing tomatoes, and when they moved the first police vehicle and nothing happened, it was evident that there was little if any police presence in the area. Whether this was down to understaffing, policy, error or a combination of all three is still being examined. While the cause of the riots is complex to say the least, it is clear that policing during the riots was ineffective and largely flawed. The belief that this could be solved with a hardline stance is both naive and misguided. These strong words by Cameron are more an attempt to pander to his voters than an effort to address the core problems.
Taking the example of Stuttgart 21, where water cannons were used by German police to clear an ongoing protest against the new central train station. The water cannons were aimed at peaceful protesters, injuring numerous people among them schoolchildren. They mostly sustained eye and head injuries from the water cannons, ranging from bruising to concussion. One man, a pensioner in his mid 60s, was left with severe eye injuries and was blinded in one eye. Although the peaceful Stuttgart 21 protest cannot be compared to the violent behaviour of the rioters, the use of water cannons, especially against minors raises huge concerns in terms of safety and human rights. The 66 year old retired engineer, left badly injured and blind in one eye, highlights the dangers of using water cannons in crowd control.
The disproportionate measures taken by German police in dealing with the 21 protest is something the UK police force should seek to avoid. Other methods and strategies in policing are available to avoid the scenes witnessed this summer. The riots were not caused by bad policing, their roots were complex and caused by a multitude of factors and circumstances. However the use of water cannons would only exacerbate the situation and raise human rights questions. The role of the police is to protect it’s citizens and not to cause them harm or injury.