Northern police oppose use of controversial anti-riot water cannon
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Police in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire have refused to authorise the use of water cannon across England and Wales.
The three forces have all opposed the plans amid concerns that the equipment would be costly, ineffective, and damaging to community relations.
Lancashire and Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioners Clive Grunshaw and Tony Lloyd both said there was “no convincing argument” as to how water cannon would improve policing or community safety.
Lloyd, the former Manchester Central MP, added the method would have been “completely ineffective” during the 2011 riots in Manchester and Salford.
West Yorkshire PCC Mark Burns Williamson said: “The level of disorder that would warrant the use of cannon has not been seen in West Yorkshire, and contributing to such equipment at a time of government cuts should not be a priority for West Yorkshire Police.
“We need to protect frontline policing and the neighbourhood policing teams to help prevent the level of disorder leading to the use of water cannon.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson and Metropolitan Police Chief Constable Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe have, however, voiced their support for the introduction of the new equipment.
Johnson backed the deployment of water cannon “for those circumstances where its absence would lead to greater disorder or the use of more extreme force”.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), a not-for-profit private company that acts as a forum for chief police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, wants the cannon to be available “to support public order and public safety operations”.
It cites their use in Northern Ireland since the late 1990s and states that water cannon could have been used during the 2011 riots to “support police lines and create distance between police and protesters.”
Theresa May, the home secretary, will be approached in the coming months to make a decision on the introduction of water cannon. If she agrees to the policy, water cannon could soon be rolled out throughout England and Wales.
A briefing paper, written by the College of Policing and Acpo, has asked chief constables to discuss water cannon with their commissioners. The paper was drawn up as part of a much broader research programme into public order and safety.
Acpo, which is funded by the Home Office and profits from commercial activities, claims that a water cannon, costing between £600,000 and £1 million, can help “exert control from a distance... by providing a flexible application of force ranging from spray to forceful water jets. The mere presence of water cannon can have a deterrent effect.”
Acpo claimed water cannon will help prevent the need for tactics like baton rounds – which have never been used outside Northern Ireland but are authorised for use in the UK – and mounted officers, vehicles, police dogs or even firearms.
It has, however, accepted that a 9,000-litre water cannon can cause serious injury or death.
In 2002, the Defence Scientific Advisory Council’s sub-committee on the medical implications of less lethal weapons told the Northern Ireland Office: “The impact of a high-pressure jet from a water cannon is a high momentum event, and may therefore lead to the displacement of the body. In certain scenarios (such as people close to solid obstacles), the potential for an increased risk of injury exists.”
In May 2013, an unnamed Turkish protester in Istanbul was hit with a high velocity jet from a water cannon and was killed when his head hit the ground after his feet were taken from under him.