Both Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe and Mayor of London Boris Johnson have been arguing for water canons to be available since the riots in 2011. Whilst Hogan-Howe has tried to reassure people that “water cannons are not a tactic for policing protest”, the Association for Chief Police Officers (ACPO) disagrees; in a briefing paper in 2014 they stated that water canons were needed in order to police continued protests “from ongoing and potential future austerity measures”.
Despite Theresa May refusing to authorise the purchase from government funds, Hogan-Howe and Johnson pushed on regardless, purchasing three second-hand water cannons from Germany. The cost, including training and maintenance, comes to £330,000. However, May remained skeptical about their effectiveness, commenting that she “remained unconvinced” about their “operability” as they were over 25 years old.
Having purchased the canons, the Met then tried to hide them away, presumably worried about the backlash of public opinion their acquisition would cause. Green party London Assembly member Jenny Jones tried to find out the location of the canons, but the information was withheld. Speaking about the discovery, she said:
To me these machines have been a complete waste of money and the whole secrecy has also been pointless. It’s time the mayor accepted that they are absolutely useless for Britain.
There has rightly been widespread opposition to the use of water cannons on London streets. Even May, not known for taking a soft line towards anything, believes water canons are too dangerous, saying there are “direct and indirect medical risks” from using the canons.
He described being hit:
First, it was quiet inside. The pressure was not so powerful that I couldn’t stand it. But then the pressure increased, step by step. Women were knocked over in the stream… I made a sign to show them to stop, but it made no impression. Suddenly I felt something like a punch.
He further stated:
Water cannons are not democratic. They are instruments of violence. They are considered much more harmless than they actually are.
This video shows the horrific and potentially lethal force of water canons:
Unfortunately, because the Met have purchased the water canons and are training officers to use them, there is still the possibility they will be used on the streets of London. Speaking to The Canary, Kevin Blowe from the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said:
There is a reason why the Metropolitan Police has hidden away its three ‘unauthorised’ and apparently worthless water cannons and has continued to maintain them and train with them. A police press officer said yesterday that ‘in the event of future public disorder in England, the police was free to apply again to the home secretary to seek permission for a licence to use the cannon.’
The Met is clearly waiting for a change in the social and political climate, one where this further militarisation of policing attracts a less intense public backlash and a more amenable Home Secretary.
This militarisation of policing must be resisted. The police have shown they cannot be trusted with the weapons they already have – adding to this armoury only increases the likelihood of serious injury or death. The Met should be forced to get rid of the water cannons they own, and public pressure must be kept up to ensure they are never used on the streets.
Join Netpol’s mailing list to keep up-to-date on protest and community policing.
Get involved with opposing the Home Office’s security and policing event. The next planning meeting is on 22 February.
Featured image via Wikimedia
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