Having lived off and on in London, we’ve been morbidly fascinated with the recent riots, recognizing some of the photos.
One was a gutted convenience store on Kingsland Road where two girls are triumphantly running out clutching bottles of shampoo, vinegar and tabasco sauce. In London the smaller stores still expect you to bring your own shopping bag, looters not excepted.
More horrifying were the Blitz-like photos of houses in flames. So it was amazing to hear the Home Secretary reject the use of deadly force or even water cannon against the rioters, saying, “The way we police Britain is through consent of communities.” Violent repression is just not the done thing.
Although “policing by consent” is apparently a household expression in Britain, we’d never heard of the idea. Unless you count seeing “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect” on the cop cars that our clients are routinely thrown up against.
It turns out that policing by consent is the principle on which Sir Robert Peel, for whom the Bobbies are named, founded the first London police force in the early 1800’s. Before that, public order was a matter for the military and hanging judges. Peel’s “Nine Principles of Policing” were unique at the time (and probably still are) for the idea that police power comes from the approval of the public, which is won by “ready offer of individual service and friendship” and “ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor.”
Friendly good humor towards the public is hard to keep up during a riot, but the Brits take it completely for granted that their cops didn’t shoot. In fact, they now want to import Giuliani-era NYPD Commissioner William Bratton to bring American-style policing to Scotland Yard.
Hello? It’s Giuliani-style policing that sparked the riots, remember? A cop shooting an unarmed man in a botched arrest. A situation that might have been diffused with a ready offer of service towards his family instead of ignoring or misleading them.
Meanwhile, in Iran, a country known for its humane tolerance of dissent, demonstators are throwing eggs at the British embassy.