Thursday, 12 June 2014

Metropolitan Police given authority to purchase water cannon

I was recently asked to write a couple of comment pieces on the decision to authorise the purchase of three old water cannon from Germany by the Metropolitan Police. The first was an article for the on-line Conversation, which gets academics to write pieces on their research for the broader public. In it, I repeat the concerns I first raised in the report I wrote in February and argue that any pretence at saving money by buying the appliances second-hand would be a false economy with potentially tragic implications. The second article was a letter in the Evening Standard that appeared 12/6/14 (page 63) which amalgamates my original article for the Conversation, and also includes my thoughts on the Mayor of London's (Boris Johnson) offer to be blasted by water cannon to 'prove' it is safe. I have yet to find a copy of the full article on-line, but have copied below the original section I wrote in response to Boris's offer to get soaked.   

London doesn't need water cannon

Boris Johnson’s offer to be hit by water cannon so that he can understand what Londoners could experience when it is introduced into policing in the capital may be a tempting prospect, but there are more serious issues behind this gimmick.  I am a social psychologist who has studied the effects of public order policing tactics, and recently argued that the introduction of water cannon could further erode trust between the public and police, and its use would largely be ineffective or even counter-productive.  Finally, if it is used in cold weather and in conjunction with the tactic of ‘kettling’ there is a real risk that the police could be faced with multiple cases of hypothermia, which can become fatal if not detected and treated in time.

However, if he is determined to be a guinea-pig, can I suggest that he experience it under the following conditions to make it a more realistic experiment? First of all, he should be hit with a jet at full power so he can experience the effects of being violently knocked to the ground. Next, he should be doused with the spray at the diffused setting, so he can experience the disorientation and possible breathing difficulties that can go along with being in a thick cloud of water droplets. Finally, he should be made to stand around soaking wet, for hours on end as it gets dark and the temperature drops close to freezing, and not allowed to leave until he has agreed to give his personal details the Police. This should provide him with a realistic sense of how Londoners could experience water cannon if it is introduced!   

A copy of the full report on water cannon I wrote for the public consultation in Jan 2014 can be downloaded here.

Dr Chris Cocking, Senior Lecturer, University of Brighton

PostScript 19/6/14:

Today an excellent article criticising the recent move towards using water cannon was published in The justice gap, which I strongly recommend reading, and not just because it describes the report I wrote in February as a  'scholarly and well-evidenced report'!

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