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Police fear impact of cuts on response to new riots

Police officers think riots could easily reoccur this summer as nothing fundamental has changed since last August. 

Many officers have serious concerns about their ability to manage such disorder, after cuts to the police numbers and budgets.

The ‘Reading the Riots’ study, compiled by the Guardian and the London School of Economics, interviewed 130 police officers, who said further disorder was likely because of worsening social and economic conditions.

Police acknowledged that their forces were stretched to the limit by the scale and speed of the riots last August and they did not know how to respond to social media networks, particularly encrypted BlackBerry Messenger.

The Met did not activate a national alarm system to call for more resources until the third day of the riots, leading to a situation where they were too slow in mobilising sufficient numbers of police inLondon.

However, the officers said they believe their general strategy was correct and are largely content with their equipment and training. Interviews suggest that greater numbers of officers on the ground would be more important and effective than introducing water cannon.

One superintendent from Greater Manchester police said: “I think if you have bad economic times, hot weather, some sort of an event that sets it off … my answer is: yes, it could. Because I don’t think anything has changed between now and last August, and the only thing that's different is people have thought: riots are fun.”

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said: “This comprehensive analysis demonstrates what we have been telling the Government for two years now; that a 20% budget cut to policing will have a negative impact on public safety and that police numbers really do matter.

“Officers interviewed rightly identify and voice concern that, should the same circumstances occur again, the police service would struggle to cope and contain the situation with the loss of police officers numbers we are experiencing as a direct result of the cuts – over 5,000 last year alone. The Government must take urgent stock of this; the safety and security of the public must be their number one priority.”

Since the riots, the Met has adapted its tactics, trained a further 1,750 public order officers, procured new technology for monitoring social media and implemented a mobilisation plan to deploy officers better.

The force said: “The [Met] has always acknowledged that there were lessons to be learned from what were unprecedented scenes of violence last summer.”

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