Police Report on Riots: “Community links in the affected areas were often ‘out of date’”

Much recent coverage on the summer riots has been about rioter rationalisation of their actions. The Guardian and the LSE conducted a series of interviews with people who took part in the riots, who explained their reasons for taking part. Some of those interviews were also shown by the TV programme Newsnight.

Post-behaviour rationalisation tends to aim to reduce the cognitive dissonance that anyone might feel after they have taken part in an act which faced overwhelming public disapproval. Thus as well as describing their individual actions much of the testimony also refers to how they perceived the actions of their peers, whether it was obtaining what they described as ‘free stuff’ through to seeing others ‘getting away with it’ which then drove them on to be part of a localised social norm. We covered the details of some of the key motivational drivers for this in a previous posting: Dangerous Crowds? Riots, Anonymity and Deindividuation.

The other recent report on the riots was one from the Police Federation that was leaked to the Observer last week. This raises many concerns over lack of co-ordination and communication and other equipment failures, which will no doubt be considered a lot further when the official enquiry reports in March. That report as well as an interim report by the Metropolitan Police flagged up a concern over weakened Police/community links prior to the riots, which may have exacerbated localised issues to become a much more significant challenge. The Observer article stated:

The chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, has also urged a rethink on intelligence, an issue highlighted in detail by the federation’s evidence, which detected a “fundamental intelligence problem” between police and the local community.

It said: “Community links in the affected areas were often ‘out of date’… Anecdotal evidence suggests that many officers were aware of the levels of ‘disenfranchisement’ and the potential for a public order incident, however they had very little specific intelligence to go on.

“When the disorder then erupted it was difficult to call upon community links that may have been able to calm the situation.”

With the Chancellor’s recent Autumn Statement indicating the possibility of up to a decade of economic recession, there is the need to strengthen links between Police and communities in order to minimise any localised incidents that could trigger much wider public order challenges. This not only requires better Police Intelligence, but also:

  • Broader ways of communicating issues back to communities. TCC recently presented a case study and a video of how to reduce tensions in a community after a murder at the UK Social Marketing Conference, which we blogged about further here.
  • Develop wider engagement that supports community cohesion and community and individual resilience by taking account of a community’s  values and avoiding a values gap arising between those delivering public services and those receiving them.
  • Understand the behaviour and values of youth culture in vulnerable low cohesion and resilience areas in order to develop inexpensive early intervention strategies. TCC’s recent research on status dogs conducted just before the riots explored some of the peer group issues referred to above.

These are cost-effective ways of responding to the concerns raised in the Police Federation and Metropolitan Police reports. If those concerns are not taken seriously – as the respected former head of the Metropolitan Police Sir John Stevens warned yesterday – there is a danger that the Government and public bodies will then need far more expensive approaches to address similar problems in financially challenging times.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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