Regular Infologue.com columnist at large, Chris Cully, takes a slightly irreverent look at the current topic of Water Cannons or has he refers to them, WC’s. Chris writes; Plastic bullets, water cannons, and to a much lesser degree, CS gas, have always been options to UK police officers in public order situations. With the exception of the use of CS gas in Toxteth in 1981, none of these options have been deployed by police on the UK mainland.
The events of last August have now brought the use of these tactical options into closer focus and the police are now considering their use, probably more seriously than at any other time. Of these options, water cannons (WC) (an appropriate abbreviation I would suggest!) are getting the most publicity.
Under current arrangements, police forces across England and Wales must provide 24- hours notice to access WCs’, previously only used and available in Northern Ireland. Senior officers have called for additional units to be bought and located on the UK mainland, making them more readily accessible in future disturbances.
WCs’ (this is making me snigger) are frequently used by foreign police forces and views of protectors being bowled down the road by large jets of water are common on news clips. Interestingly, playing skittles with protestors is not the main purpose of water cannon. Their purpose is to spray the crowd with continuous, copious quantities of water so everybody gets cold and wet and decides to slope home. As the old police epithet goes, “the best policeman is a good rainstorm”.
Each WC (I’m still laughing) is understood to cost £1.3 million and experts, although we know not whom they are, believe 3 vehicles would ensure operational capability across the UK. Personally, I think that is the equivalent of a band-aid over a bullet hole, but then I am no expert.
In an interim report on last year’s riots, Scotland Yard said the purchase of water cannons was “explored in detail” and were discussing with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) about potentially procuring WCs’ (still laughing) to serve London and the south east. The Yard state they look forward to the Home Office “resolving its position on licensing and funding of water cannon as a national asset.”
So if they get purchased will they work? Everybody has a view on this but the truth is, nobody really knows. They require constant refilling, which has to come from mains supply on the street in the same manner as fire engines. This produces various problems, not least of which is Red Ken’s statement when, as Mayor, he said that he would seal up the water supplies if police used water cannon. “Nice to have a caring Mayor”.
The other problem is they are big wieldy beasties, unable to move fast in response to public disorder. It is difficult enough for police officers to respond in sizeable numbers to fast moving events, so how well will a water cannon respond?
Naturally, once deployed, the baying minority will be howling about human rights, how the police got it wrong, tanks on the streets of London, blah, blah. Of course, they will be followed by the avaricious legal brigands proffering litigious support to the soaked and bowled over protestors. Ahh, the joys of Merrie Old England in the 21st Century.
Interestingly, if the water shortage continues, the police may not be able to fill the water cannons at all! Well, we await proceedings with whetted anticipation!
Chris Cully, is the Managing Director of risk & security management company, Dilitas.