Sunday Comment: I didn’t predict a riot

Editorial Comment

“The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends all the efforts of police must be directed. The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquility, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful, and whether the objects for which the police were appointed have been attained” (Richard Mayne, 1829 in setting out the test and purpose of establishing the police).

Funnily enough, I was walking down Tottenham High Road yesterday afternoon, feeling that all was well in the world. I don’t manage to get to many games outwith the five teams in the borough but took this opportunity to go to the pre-season friendly between Tottenham and Atletico Madrid.

As we travelled on the train, we were surrounded by families and fans who strolled their way down to White Hart Lane. It seemed a generation away from times in the seventies when visits to football grounds were like fraught with danger.

At the end of the game, the tannoy informed fans that the High Road was closed off.

We walked back to Northumberland Park Station, blissfully unaware of the destruction that was about to take place.

What has most concerned people is the way the police conceded the territory to the rioters.

What has concerned many people has been that often policing has been centred on the protection of property but here the businesses of many people from the self employed shopkeeper to PC World and Carpetright were up in flames.

But funnily the day before, we had also seen policing that seemed somewhat anaemic and so far removed from the original raison d’etre.

A family pub on Friday. Never seen any bother there. Two men argue in the beer garden surrounded by families. One smashes a bottle on the side of the others head.

They leave, police attend, apprised of circumstances, area searched, no trace and leave (apparently). All the people in the pub ask: Are they not going to ask if anyone has seen anything, or has evidence etc.

Logistics suggest that there are limited cops on duty that night and they have to make judgement calls.

But the public seem to see too much of this. In Thurrock, we were told that people may be able to set their watches to drug deals around the borough but if the police arrested ten today another ten would turn up tomorrow.

You imagine if you saw ten drunk drivers weaving down the A13. Rang the police and they came up with that response.

Likewise at T-Fest. The police announced that there were no arrests. There is a difference between a fair number of public order offences and deciding for whatever reasons, not to arrest.

Such a culture or a political mindset was bound to lead to last nights rioting and looting in Tottenham. The criminals couldn’t believe how far they could take it. It appeared last night that criminals, criminality and drug gangs controlled the streets of London in a way that many people never thought possible.

These are difficult times. We may be dragged down into the double dip of the recession and Thurrock is not immune to a rising crime rate. Needless to say, we will be spun the line re recorded crime.

But speak to any community worker and they are pretty depressed. The hard work of a decade or more feels like it is being unpicked. Time after time you would hear of great work by the community teams were diverting young people away from crime.

Now, the music studios lay idle, the projects cancelled, the staff decimated and some young people struggling without the benefit of educational maintenance allowance and a raft of other support mechanisms, have a bleak future.

But it was obvious to Margaret Thatcher when she took over the Conservative Party in 1975 that in order to push through difficult reforms you needed to have the police with you and in numbers.

Instead we in Essex have 383 less officers. Officers having to reapply for their own jobs and the worst of the cuts yet to come. Thurrock Council alone has to make £13 million in savings and no matter what you say, somewhere along the line there needs to be an impact.

There is a meeting of community leaders and educationalists next month, facilitated by the Royal Opera House. Around the borough there are pockets of Neighbourhood Action Panels (Aveley and South Ockendon are particularly good) and pro-active schemes in Tilbury have also been praised.

As we write this comment piece, things are now kicking off in Enfield in the domino effect that occurred in 1981.

What has happened can be used as a launchpad for communities to act proactively to ensure that there is a sense of hope for all the members of its community.

As the motto says at White Hart Lane: “To Dare Is To Do”

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