Police Tactics

One of the most oft-repeated slogans doing the rounds tonight, by politicians and media pundits alike (and therefore probably wrong) is something or other to do with police numbers.

If only, the cliché goes, there had been more police on the streets last night – or even just more police – then the nastiness would not have happened. Or if it had, it would have been so much less serious.

As “proof”, we are treated to various tales of the thin blue line (aka six local coppers and an alsatian) holding fast against hordes of marauding hoodies in some obscure outpost of post-colonial London.

Rolled into the general theory is stuff about proposed government cuts and how if these had been in place, the situation would have been even more dire.

All of which is just so much bollocks.

I would not propose bringing the army on to the streets of London: far too many taboos would thereby be broken, not least the mixing of military means with civil protest. Though its not unheard of, and is less than a century since the last such large scale intervention.

However, there are lessons to be learnt from military history, which maybe the opinion-formers would do well to consider. The first such lesson is that numbers are not the be-all and end-all of winning a conflict.

The British Empire survived for decades with minute numbers of true Brits occupying distant outposts and holding down vast numbers of innocent natives courtesy of one simple fact: technological superiority. The works of Messrs Lee, Enfield and Gatling ensured that the British Imperial armies would be second to none when it came to slaughtering hordes of less well-equipped fuzzy-wuzzies, on whatever continent they appeared.

A hint of the import of technological superiority came, last night, when a mere three armoured police vehicles swept through the streets of Camden, effectively dispersing all before them.

The second military point – and it, too, has to do with numbers, is that victory does not go to the side with the largest forces, but to the side that is able to bring the largest concentration of force to bear at critical points in an action.

Thus, from Caesar to Napoleon – and beyond – military history abounds with commanders who defeated enemies many times their numerical superior by the simple expedient of concentrating force and firepower in one spot, eliminating their enemy there, before moving on to the next place where such superiority would prove useful.

Again, relating that to the streets of London: the Met had more than enough officers at its disposal to quell many of the incidents that occurred yesterday: it just didn’t deploy them fast enough, decisively enough, for that advantage to count.

One problem, hinted at tonight, is that such rapid deployment is effectively ruled out by the reams of bureaucracy that modern police need to cut through in order to do anything – and there may be some truth to that.

But puh-lease. No more stories about our poor outnumbered, outgunned (!) police force. They have more than enough resource to do the job. They just need to take a leaf or two out of the military book on topics like speed of deployment.



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