Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Let's not bring in the army

As the riots and the looting continue, the minds of some are turning to "bringing the army in". It would seem "they will sort it out".

It is not altogether clear why.

Soldiers are not trained to be police officers; they are trained to be soldiers.

This simple point is especially important in respect of exercising any power of arrest and in dealing with public order offences. It may be that the police adopt the wrong tactics sometimes in dealing with public order matters; but at least they have relevant training and experience. The soldier has none.

But more importantly, it is important in a civil society that soldiers are not used against civilians - even if the civilians are violent looting thugs.

There is no need to bring soldiers in: the police actually have all the relevant public order powers to deal with the riots.

If the police are not doing so well so far, then that is a resource or tactical issue which can undoubtedly be resolved without reference to the armed forces.

There may perhaps be logistical support, such as communications and supply, which the armed forces can assist with; they could also maybe help in firefighting and medical support.

But we should not have a society where soldiers patrol civilians.

It was not a success in Northern Ireland, and there is no need to introduce it here.

Whatever our armed forces are for, it cannot be to coerce members of the public.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Hamish said...

Soldiers have no training in peacekeeping? Are you sure?

Fiona Hanley said...

Ironically it is forty years to the day that internment was introduced to Northern Ireland. Not a roaring success at the time, sadly.

AJS said...

Absolutely, spot on.

The risks of another Bloody Sunday notwithstanding, imposing martial law now would set a dangerous precedent for some less-benign government to follow in future.

AG said...

I see, so soldiers couldn't be brought in to relieve police officers for front line duties, say at No.10 for instance.

Or maybe to secure premises after the thugs have left. Do you really think the call to put army on the street of London requires SA80's and Grenades, rather than Batons, shields and the odd Green goddess. Please credit people with some intellence.

Tim Johnson said...

I would far prefer this to be handled by the police. I am sure that they deal with it much better than the army - when they are there in sufficient numbers.

However, last night they were clearly overwhelmed.

Areas like Clapham Junction (1.5 miles from my house) were apparently ransacked for several hours with no visible police presence. Why not? One can only assume that they simply did not have enough officers available.

On Sunday night Brixton (0.7 miles from my house)was sacked and looted. I don't want the violence to hit my - or anyone else's area tonight.

We are told that there will be 16,000 police on the streets of London tonight. Good. But will it be enough? I have no idea, but quite frankly if what it takes to stop a mob going through my area, looting shops, burning cars, shops and houses is the presence of the army on the streets, then I'd like to see them out on the streets.

Dr said...

What do you think Soliders were doing in Iraq? Most of them were doing foot patrols of urban environments to keep peace.

Ireland? The same.

Not to mention the Redcaps.

dukest said...

David, I think most people's views about using the additional resource of the army are based around the plainly obvious inadequate number of police available.

In the majority of cases it seems like the principle requirement of law enforcement was defence of property and people - the requirement to catch or arrest seems to me to be clearly secondary despite the macho wailings of politicians about perpetrators being destined to face justice.

If the police can manage 16,000 on duty more promptly in future then fine, but if it takes them 4 days to mobilise anything like that number then either they are incompetent or an inadequate force which needs the ability to supplement itself in times of trouble. If "army" is a scary word for people then keep some spare police uniforms in a storeroom somewhere, but do the job properly, dont just stand by and watch communities burn.

Ian Betteridge said...

Soldiers do, of course, have training in peacekeeping. But, as any soldier will tell you, "peacekeeping" requires two sides who want to keep the peace. And this is a very different situation. Here, we have one "side" who want to break stuff.

Armed forces, fundamentally, are good at two things: breaking stuff and killing people. Largely, thankfully, we only have to use the threat of breaking stuff and killing people, but if you put soldiers on the streets to "restore order" you have to be prepared for them to do what they're good at doing.

At the moment, we're nowhere near the point where we put soldiers on the streets to shoot people (and that's what it means). What's required is massive police presence, and that's what we're getting.

Christine Burns said...

It is scary what people will rush to suggest, without much thought about the wider implications or whether any particular course will work.

For starters, it's easier to start something than to stop it.

Put the army on the streets and what are the terms for then standing it down? What precedent do you set for dealing with future (possibly political) disturbances.

Similarly with water cannon. Easy to bring into use. And then it's a fact of life we all have to live with in perpetuity.

These aren't solutions to the present challenge in any case.

This isn't about numbers or force. What we have here is a relatively small number of miscreants. The Police were simply outmanoeuvred tactically by the youths' mobility and communications. The army would face the same problem.

This is a dispersed threat, highly mobile threat without an apparent leadership that can be easily neutralised. Their power is that they can attack, seemingly at random, over a very wide area. What do we do? Put army units in every shopping centre in London just in case?

This is a challenge to be met by comparable use of intelligence, not brute force.

Mike Aaronhall said...

This is not Northern Ireland or any other disputed area of the British Isles. This is the capital city being trashed and it has spread to other major cities! Obviously there are many tasks the army can't do but at the very least their presence will provide reassurance for the community and for the hard-pressed police force, many of whom have barely slept for 3 days!

The army is well-equipped to protect the fire and ambulance service personnel, to clear streets of looters and to provide a clear sign that chaos will not be tolerated!

danieldwilliam said...

I’m uneasy about bringing in the army. Firstly for the reason noted by Christine Burns and Ian Betteridge. I think the army’s mindset is geared towards delivering extreme violence to an identifiable enemy before they do the same. Secondly, as Christine Burns alluded to, the army will struggle with a dispersed guerilla opposition just as much as the police have. Decades of experience of our own army and others in Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Malaysia and Spain suggest that this problem might be harder to solve in the long term than just putting a few thousand soldiers on the streets.

Quietzaple said...

Some have folk memories of times when the Lord Lieutenant of the County would read The Riot Ct commanding those present to disperse in the name of the King prior to the soldiery opening fire. There are enough problems.

Tom Watson MP 's suggestions include using the army to defend firemen, ambulances etc. Sounds sensible. Even that might make it look as though the hooligans and looters have won, so it should be held in reserve.

The political leadership of the Met has been poor to worse and HMG likewise. Kit Malthouse claimed he had 1400 officers to cope last night. It sounded desperately few.

The PR aspects of the police and the supposed good guys have been pitiful: from the failure of the police to address the peaceful demonstrators in support of the Duggan family, through police statements including one to SKY that Duggan hadn't fired on them to bozo Bojo getting Mark Duggan's Christian name wrong.

There will be calls for a Falange government and capable leadership: Beware.

Dr Evan Harris said...

As other people have commented this blog post does not go deeply enough into what may happen.

If the extra police are not sufficient to a) deter rioting and arson b) break up rioting and arson and c) arrest those rioting and arsoning, then we can not stand back and watch the violent anarchy continue. Especially if lives are lost.

It seems that one problem is the safety of the emergency services trying to deal with the gangs.

So if this continues to escalate, or if firemen and women are attacked or if people die in fires that the police/fire service can not reach then I think the military should asked to provide personnel and equipment to provide the protection needed.

They could act under police control and be used to protect the police as they make arrests, and to protect fire officers and ambulance men and women.

The blog post, tellingly, does not address any of those scenarios despite those being the ones that have been positted.

Instead you provide a feeble analogy with Northern Ireland. I would have thought uses of the National Guard in the US would be a better example of good and bad practice.

John McCusker said...

John McCusker. There are several reasons why the army should not be deployed. Some are tactical others are political. Its inconcievable that you can use the army to suppress civil unrest in the UK while condemming (pardon the pun) libya syria etc for doing likewise. Deployment of the army would be admisson of failure on behalf of the metropolitan police and there political masters in the home office. We have seen in the past that the army to put it politely tend not to be big in diversity training no politican would want the images on TV that might produce.

Sandrine Lopez said...

I'm wary about the use of the Army but the scenes of outnumbered police forced to retreat (e.g. run for their lives) in the face of an oncoming mob of what looked like at least a hundred were terrifying!

I'd like to think the '16,000' or so police that are promised can turn the tide back to some semblance of order. But if they can't, what then?

Jules said...

> Whatever our armed forces are for, it cannot be to coerce members of the public.

I don't think that's the proper role of any state actor, and the last thing communities need is coercion.

Perhaps you could stick to your area of expertise instead of posting equivocal comments on whatever happens to be the subject of the day?

richard.blogger said...

The army *do* have training of crowd control. They just have different techniques. On mainland UK we have the medieval attitude that crowd control should be through the police with batons and shields (and perhaps horses). The army (like police forces in Europe) take the attitude that crowd control should be more "efficient", with water cannon and tear gas.

However, my point is about the message that using the army will convey. The army are used when there is no civilian support - for example, during fire fighters strikes (there is no fire fighter or police strike at the moment), or if there is a disaster beyond the resources of civil authorities (for example flooding, or the foot and mouth outbreak).

Civil authorities are not designed - nor they should be - to handle large scale disasters like flooding. Instead, they are designed to keep looters off our streets. And normally they achieve this (dare I say that in 13 years of Labour government we did not have a situation like this?) If the army is brought in it would be an admission that the civil authorities have failed to do the job that they exist to do. It is a big step. Remember how the army on the streets of Belfast was just a temporary measure? let's keep the army in their barracks where they can have a deserved rest from fighting in foreign wars that we really did not need to start.

Anyway, the army is overstretched at the moment and is being cut heavily, so I suspect there aren't the soldiers to spare anyway. So the question is moot.

richard.blogger said...

"I would have thought uses of the National Guard in the US would be a better example of good and bad practice."

And that would fundamentally misunderstand the US psyche and how different we are to the Americans. The National Guard are not simply an equivalent of our Territorials. The second amendment says "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State". That is, it is assumed to be a fundamental part of being a state.

In the UK we do not have that attitude, we have a small professional army assuming that in peacetime we do not need a militia.

Such a difference in attitudes is difficult to explain to the average American, but I am aghast that Dr Harris does not understand it.

Jack of box said...

Crikey, so many experts on the armed forces, their training and deployment, how many have actually served? Of course the army can do the job, there are elements trained in all aspects of the emergency services. What the army won't do is replace the police, they still exercise the power of arrest, but creating a human barrier is well within a squaddies capabilities
Ignore the fuckwits and call out the lads.

Former firefighter and serviceman.

Michael Smith said...

I'm amused at how suddenly everybody (especially our favourite media lawyer)is an instant expert on the best way to police our streets.

Incensed of SW19 said...

Gosh - I seem to have stumbled in to a parallel universe. A liberal, parallel universe, as far removed from reality as the vote wielding and troubled youth we see on the streets.... Do bring in the army and shoot as many of these people as is humanly possible. Then round up the rest and at the very least sterilise them to stop the underclasses from breeding even more. The kind of attitudes I see here are precisely why this country is going to the dogs - the gene pool is constantly diluted and we get ever closer to the tipping point that comes from the downward spiral towards the lowest common denominator.

John O'Connell said...

Military Riot Training != Civilian Riot Training. Most Military tactics pretty brutal and highly illegal in a civilian environment.

Army troops in London? Be very careful what you wish for.

Maeve said...

What is more frightening; the use of water cannons and rubber bullets, or the deployment of the armed services? I'm not sure anymore. Would armed services hesitate to use tactics such as cannoning or tear gas? What about kettling?

It seems to me that the situation now with police, and the possible enactment of armed services are both terribly out-of-control. Yes, these rioters are causing terrible harm - but to react with more harm will only escalate the situation. The troubling question is not, however, what shouldn't we do. It is what should we do.

What is the path of least harm that gets us out of this situation? I don't know.

(If this was not clear, please do forgive me, my first language is not English.)

Maeve said...

Dear Incensed, I apologise to reply to your comment as I am not an English national, merely a resident (who is not there now). Sadly, I have to disagree with you. I believe that someone who is willing to suggest that humans should be shot, and that eugenics should be practised, is himself the lowest common denominator. To me, a man who would want his countrymen round up and shot, regardless of the disgracefulness of their actions, is the real reason why England is "going to the dogs".

I find it hard to believe that you are not trolling, it surprises me that your comment was published. Although I guess they do say that "there's always one"...

Libelittle said...

Umm, my friend is in the army, and he has definitely completed training involving riot control and public order.

When I think of bringing the army in, I do not mean with firearms, but rather with similar equipment to that used by riot police.

The reasons are as follows:
1) Deterrent. Even if the effect is exactly the same, it sounds like more of a deterrent to would-be rioters.
2) Manpower. The army can focus large numbers of people in specific areas without having to worry about neglecting their duty elsewhere, due to their status as an 'extra measure'.
3) Ideology. Currently, there is no coherent reason behind the riots other than opportunism. However, rioters have been recorded uttering things to the effect of 'showing the police who controls the streets'. Using the army side-steps the ex post facto justification/explanation of simmering local tensions with 'the law'.
4) The Future. Breaking up such widespread and wantonly violent groups will necessarily involve a degree of violence (unfortunately). Using the army avoids the perpetuation of any sort of resentment. They are far more impersonal a force than the Met, and effectively unassailable by a civil force.

These are quite good reasons, and are far removed from a call for brutality.
This is not a knee-jerk emotional reaction.

Jennifer Jones said...

So...You're saying don't bring the army in - unless it's for logistical or medical support or firefighting. Which is exactly what is clearly needed, and most likely exactly what is behind ppl's call to bring them in. Whatever is the opposite of a waste of time, I don't think this post is it.

And ps How vital can the police training and experience you refer to really be when it leads them to 'adopt the wrong tactics'? Isn't that a powerful argument to let someone else have a go?

Кямал Макили-Алиев said...

I agree that soldiers do not receive special training needed to deal with the civilian unrest and disorder. However when the situation is grave enough the mere presence of the armed forces with heavy weaponry can discourage a lot of "violent thugs" given the fact that they obviously have no fear of the police anymore. The presence of the army of course should be limited and exclude full-scale operation, rather be coordinated in cooperation with the police force. Then army involvement can be justified in my opinion.

strangebrew said...

I think the police could have handled the problem quite adequately if, they had intelligent, decisive and experienced leadership.

It is quite obvious that since the Tottenham debacle kicked off, that such leadership was not forthcoming.

Either operationally or politically.

The response was flat-footed and tentative.
There was chaos and confusion into what the front line riot cops were supposed to be doing?
Arrest the more extreme of the culprits or protect shops and property.

In the end they managed neither task.

The shops and properties were smashed and some burnt, and the ring leaders waltz away with their cut...the Ipods and flat screens.

The bunnies arrested were just the cannon fodder for the 'brains' behind the organizational logistics, and it was choreographed and directed for sure.

Reports suggest that street gangs usually mortal enemies forgot their enmity and battled the common enemy.

That the police and political hierarchy were sunning themselves elsewhere was a contributory cause I am sure.

No one wanted the hot potato of whether to use baton or presence!

Given the legality and the human rights minefield it was a campaign that the police could not, cannot, and will not win unless future legislation reflects reality and not pink tinged aspirations.

But using troops, water cannon and rubber bullets on the streets of a brave and possibly foolhardy politician to push that one through parliament methinks.

Those youths were the rabid feral and disenfranchised in society.
I do not mean the poor and disillusioned per se,although I suspect most were and are, I mean the educationally failed, the incapable and the underclass that requires street savvy to survive in their environment, The same environment being a self fulfilling prophecy of cunning, violence and deviousness.

Recent budget cuts might not have helped, but this has been brewing for a while in a section of the miscreants.

I would hazard that maybe upwards of 75% were rioting cos it was a laugh and a 'glorious' sense of freedom from authority, besides the pickings were good!
A mob loses any vestige of morality by default and monkey see monkey do!
A mob is not an ethical committee and a few criminally deluded tend to be the monkeys followed.

Parenting skill is also a valid question mark...

What parent does not know or care where their pre and early teen offspring are in the evening?

It is a 'chickens coming home to roost' scenario.

For at least 25 years there has been an attitude that education is a political game, a tool to boast or decry depending on political stance and that responsibility is an option.
Everyman and women for themselves..os the modern motto...we see where that goes when one does not have access to either the education or the wherewithal to afford self determination.

Business, especially internationals, have opted for cheap and disposable work force and cheap is the operative word.

Cherished national icons have been split and hived off to political 'friends & cronies' and there is no cohesion in society in general, it is an us or them thing going down,ever since we were informed there is no such thing as society!

And this will not disappear because a few squaddies bash a few heads outside Harrod's!

Simon said...

The police have limited capacity to deal with riot and civil disorder. Within the context of riot, the government (local or otherwise) brings the army in as soldiers, not police, to defeat the rioters. See, for example, the Gordon Riots. The army confronts the rioters with the option of dispersing or facing superior, possibly lethal, force.

The essence is dispersal and termination of the rioting. There is not the judicial or penal capacity for putting all the rioters through the court process. If there is, it is more like an affray and the police should be up to the job.

As to the army dispersing, once the rioters have ceased, and the medics and padres have attended to the wounded, the soldiers can withdraw to barracks and settle down for a brew.

The army does have options other than shooting, but it would be unwise to give those rioting hope in that direction.

The reason that military intervention did not succeed in Northern Ireland was that the community the Army went to protect ceased to appreciate that protection and the political decision was made not to protect our plantations. The rest was a protracted mess.

Police should be used as police, and the army as soldiers. It might also be a good idea for the police to disarm and leave the matter of shooting people to the Army. Whether shooting electricians, baristers or local entrepreneurs, the consequences always seem so unsatisfactory.

Kimpatsu said...

@Doctor Evan Harris (and it's good to see you here, BTW):
The US National Guard? Why do the Kent State Massacre and the charges against civil rights protesters in Alabama come to mind?
The army is a broadsword, not a scalpel, and its deployment on UK streets will inevitably lead to innocents being hurt or killed in the army's zealousness to clear the streets of anyone not in uniform. If you really think that the army can provide level-headed backup to the police, then by all means deploy them... with the caveat that if a single innocent is hurt by the army, you have to serve prison time.
Are you still so confident that they can do a good job?
Great to see this post illustrated by General Jumbo, BTW. The Beano comic strip really is a blast from (my) past.

Alex said...

These comments make an interesting read, and perhaps highlight why it is felt to be too dangerous to allow the army a role in such civil happenings - it is difficult to define, and then limit/contain how exactly they can or should fit in. I seem to remember a quote from somewhere that it would lead to the "people becoming the enemy of the state".

I live near Camden. My personal feeling was that potentially a crime could be committed, and you knew that the police were more likely than not, not going to be able to help. I'd never had that feeling before; I imagine that's what it would feel like in many places around the world. I'll admit I have never served in the army, nor lived in such a place, but I do have friends in many different parts of our armed forces, at varying levels, and have friends from almost all parts of society.

While the 'rioters' seemed to be using guerilla type tactics - where encrypted messaging systems limited contemporaneous intelligence gathering - it seemed the response should be to have as many law enforcing persons in as many places as possible?

Indeed, if this is ever deemed as the correct response, perhaps the army could help but in a different capacity. Not as the 'army', but as trained bodies that can volunteer or be nominated (at random?) annually (and be paid if called upon?) to supplement the police in times of desperate need. They could have police style uniforms and use similar equipment to the police - there would be no need for guns or grenades. It could be about supplemental force against zealous criminality, not lethal force suppressing a righteous protest.

The police force have been criticised for using the wrong tactics, but this was countered by a senior police figure stating that the tactics depended on the numbers of police they had at hand. If it takes higher numbers at short notice to achieve the most effective tactics in these circumstances, in light of further losses to the police, why not create a policy that would allow our praised members of the armed forces an opportunity to protect their country and its citizens in a related capacity?

There also seems to be the idea that if the army are called in, the Met have failed. Why not see it as the Met succeeding in their duty? They recognise that more force is needed to protect the citizens of Britain, and make the call for extra personnel to be brought in. At least this would halt the (in my opinion unwarranted) criticism of their just 'observing' the riots.

No one wishes to stand by and watch their community burn, and seemingly contrary to the belief of many, I think the British public are aware enough to recognise a misuse of the army. I also think that given that everyone in our society seems to have a smart phone, whether rich or poor, world coverage would swiftly ensue.

I also feel times have changed, and that we should be able to utilise such a resource of trained bodies where the police are obviously overwhelmed. We should at least be able to discuss it without a fear that the army would be used to incite a bloody coup at every opportunity, or simply that the 'army' are brutes who can only kill people.

In conclusion, I don't feel that the argument of utter separation between military and police has to hold true, absolutely, in order for us to maintain a safe and democratic society. However, it would be up to us as the public to ensure this, and this would surely be a great responsibility that we should be ready to take on. We now also have to discuss why the riots happened, perhaps taking into account the opinions of those involved, and not just the politically tinged ideas of those able and willing to speak up.

Jabba the Cat said...

The British Army has had a high focus on riot control training across all regiments since the late 60's and early 70's in response to duty requirements in Northern Ireland and also the numerous peace keeping operations around the world that it has been involved in. The army is very well equipped and trained to deal with civil disorder.

The army also has the advantage of tighter discipline than the civil police, and a command and control structure that is more responsive.

The Red Flag said...

I was in the Infantry for 22 years and we actually did an enormous amount of riot training. I've been in over a dozen riots and on one memorable St Patrick's day was part of a 4 man baton gun team that fired 160-odd rounds in one afternoon in William Street in the Bogside(baton rounds are the real name for what civilians refer to as rubber bullets or plastic bullets). The Army - although more than capable of fighting riots, has developed different tactics to the Police which are totally at odds with what the Police do and what the politicians want. The Army tactic is to form secure base lines, force the rioters out of commercial areas and then basically stand still and let them vent their fury until they are knackered and go home. They don't try to break them up and always leave them an escape route. Baton rounds have a fairly limited range and are very inaccurate. Their use is to keep petrol bombers away from the shield walls and that's about it. In all the riots I was in I only ever saw one person actually hit by a baton round - usually they missed by miles and went through windows or dented parked cars - or usually got picked up and thrown back at us.

So slick are the Army at their tactic that they usually secure a car park to the rear, bring in a bit of a field kitchen and set up an admin area and rotate the troops through for a brew and a sausage butty.

If the politicians are dismayed at how the Police handled it then I think they would go absolutely ape if they deployed the Army to only see them force the rioters back from the shopping areas and then just stand there for 12 hours or so letting them hurl bricks and petrol bombs until the little darlings got tired or hungry and went home.

john naddy said...

What do you think Soliders were doing in Iraq? Most of them were doing foot patrols of urban environments to keep peace.