When the Mayor announced his support for plans to allow the Metropolitan Police to use water cannon in the capital it came despite widespread public opposition. Johnson’s own consultation had only 59 responses that were in favour of bringing in water cannons, compared to 2,547 against.
The reason that so many people are concerned about the introduction of the cannons is because they are weapons. Their impact on a crowd is indiscriminate and they have been known to injure and blind those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the receiving end.
Joanne McCartney, the chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime panel, said there is “no convincing argument” for their deployment. Furthermore, the committee has accused the mayor of “preventing a full and proper national public debate” on the issue.
However, the Mayor sees it as a ‘moral issue’, saying that politicians should not refuse the police something they needed for their operations. “How would we live with ourselves if we denied the police something that could have saved a life or prevented serious injury?
The fact that the police are pushing for them should be neither here nor there. The police are always pushing for additional powers and equipment. However, it is up to politicians to engage with the public and measure whether or not they are really necessary for the protection of the public, and not a creeping infringement all of our rights.
In 2010 even Boris said he was opposed to their introduction, saying in that he did not think it was right to get into an “arms race” with protesters. Of course, the big event which has happened since is the riots of 2011, which even Johnson himself accepts the weapons would have made no difference to.
What the riots of 2011 did was lift the lid on the reality of the city. The disruption may have stopped but the tensions that caused it are still prevalent. What is needed to avoid a repeat is not the growing militarism of the police force, but a far-reaching cultural change and a political culture that listens to concerns and focuses on the real issues that fuel these divisions.
The Metropolitan Police has been hit by scandal after scandal and there is already a widespread distrust. As part of the consultation, West Mercia Chief Constable David Shaw said, “There is no intelligence to suggest that there is an increased likelihood of serious disorder within England and Wales. However, it would be fair to assume that the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest.”
This isn’t an idea that has been hatched overnight, it is part of a wider trend. The last few years have seen a massive increase in police powers and surveillance, and the introduction of water cannons to the mainland would set yet another negative precedent and yet another move towards the criminalisation of protest.