8. December 2011 14:29
In a leaked internal report on how UK forces responded to the disorder during the August London riots, a Police Federation review has highlighted that officers of the Metropolitan Police were forced to use their own mobile phones after the multi-million pound digital Airwave radio system collapsed.
The Police Federation review revealed that the failings of the radio network used by the Metropolitan Police was one of the reasons why the capital’s officers were ‘always approximately half-an-hour behind the rioters. This is partly why officers kept arriving at areas from where the disorder had moved on,” said the report.
It added: “Officers on the ground and in command resorted, in the majority of cases, to the use of mobile phones to co-ordinate a response.”
The company responsible for the Airwave radio system now used by police has insisted the network was not overloaded during the troubles in London. However, the internal review also reveals that after the trouble erupted, “forces often did not know how many officers they had on or off shift” and senior officers took charge in some places “often without the local knowledge of the areas”, making it easier to be out-maneuvered by rioters.
It also concluded that severe equipment shortages among officers meant they were unable to be mobilised in a public order capacity. “Mutual aid officers were often dispatched without enough equipment. They therefore could not be mobilised in a public order capacity as all the riot gear was in use,” found the investigation, compiled by the federation’s operational policing sub-committee.
Scotland Yard last week released an interim report into the riots which found there were not enough officers to deal with the unprecedented scale and spread of the disorder. Chiefs also said intelligence gathering “could not cope with the scale and speed of the spread of disorder”.
A spokesman for Airwave said the suggestion the network was overloaded, causing “significant communications failure”, was “entirely inaccurate”. “Despite the unprecedented levels of police officers and other emergency service users accessing the network, we are proud that it operated exactly as it is designed to, providing an extremely high level of service to officers from 26 different police forces and the ambulance and fire services,” the spokesman said.
“Throughout the period of the riots, our enhanced monitoring of the network and continuous communication with the user community enabled us to provide an optimal service to those working on the front line.
“Naturally we are disappointed that the Police Federation did not think it appropriate to talk to Airwave or other police bodies responsible for communications prior to compiling their report.”
What the report failed to identify was that the rioters were using free-to-use BlackBerry Instant Messaging (BBM) which acted as a virtual message board as to where the action was moving to and developing.
Although many rioters have been identified via street CCTV, tried and sentenced, it seems that access to BBM data across the mobile networks has been more difficult to determine in order to acquire more solid evidence to assist apprehension. Subsequent analysis of those involved in the riots indicated a great majority of rioters had a previous criminal record, a high proportion were receiving state benefits and a high number were using BlackBerry mobiles. Is there a message in there?