The media and members of the public keep expressing shock and frustration that the police were unable to protect them, unable to stop the looting, did not even show up until it was too late.
What people may not realise is that the police are no longer able to maintain public order under the circumstances we have in the UK today.
They are massively outnumbered by hooligans. Citizens are timid and leave all law enforcement to the authorities. The police are politically hamstrung by racial politics, poor leadership, human rights legislation, a soft judiciary, full prisons and increasing number of lawsuits and prosecutions against them. The upshot is that their already difficult job is almost impossible.
What tips matters from almost impossible to losing control of the streets, are the asymmetries between the police and rioters in public order situations that favour the rioters.
- The rioters can coordinate better, and securely thanks to encrypted one-to-one and one-to-many mobile communications devices like Blackberry Messenger.
- The rioters are highly mobile, and fluidly flowing around police positions. They composed of small autonomous units that outflank and outrun the police. We saw the cops literally chasing rioters around Birmingham last night. The police earned their nickname, plods, as they cou8ld not move fast enough to track and contain the hooligans. Maybe they need Korean style lightly armed highly mobile running police to tackle the hooligans and coral them until backup arrives.
- The police have an infinite number of things to defend, with the mere act of trying to prioritize defences sapping resources and energy, leaving them too thinly spread out. This allows the rioters to exploit their strength in number to overwhelm the police. In Woolwich 8 pubic order police were facing 100 rioters who nearly overran them.
- The rioters use emergent tactics, adapted to the situation, exploiting known police tactics and weaknesses. The rioters are cynical, they know the police are instructed to defend certain territories (leaving others unguarded). They know the cops have been ordered to contain rather than stop looting. They knew the police would be non-confrontational, seeking to avoid escalation or more justifications for violence. In short the cops were static targets for rocks, whilst shops were fair game for thieving.
- The police tactics were timid and static. Until last night were contain to contain the trouble (there was trouble in 10 out of the 30 odd boroughs) , then arrest the identified rioters the following day. Justice is served, but its too late. The damage has been done, and hooligans are now convinced that of they simply achieve critical mass, the streets are theirs.