The Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC) are holding a series of public meetings on next year’s police and crime plans.

Similar meetings used to be held in Wandsworth (I did a few of them myself, and if you were so inclined you can watch a series of three videos of my presentation from 2010. It’s worth noting that despite the low viewing figures of those videos, they were still seen by far more people than actually attended the meeting.

The MOPAC meeting might be a little more interesting, however, since it is attended by somewhat more senior figures than me.

The Wandsworth meeting is being held on 26 February in the Civic Suite in Wandsworth. If you want to attend you can register at the website or you can complete the questionnaire online.

Thanks to the leaflet the Met popped through my door the other day I know exactly what to look out for to prevent terrorism.

I’m reassured that I’m playing my part, looking out for people who have “bought or hired a vehicle in suspicious circumstances.” or who hold “passports or other documents in different names for no obvious reason” (my emphasis), you know, the sort of things you wouldn’t have thought in any way odd before the leaflet (or this blog post) told you.

Cleanliness is next to terroristness

While not quite as bad as the 2009 campaign which wanted you to shop your neighbour if they were doing too much washing up it still seems based on the idea that you should automatically fear something that’s outside your normal range of experience.

My problem with these annual campaigns is two-fold.

First, they are useless. “It’s probably nothing, but…” is more an invitation to report anything, than it is practical advice to a community. It is so vague and generic as to be useless. Should I fear my neighbour, because he has fertiliser and a large vehicle? Or should I see if his gardening business could give my back-yard a quick once over? If the Met were serious, they’d be looking at far more practical advice tailored to the community.

Second, the biggest impact of this leaflet is to spread fear and uncertainty. We can ‘defeat terrorism’, we are told, but it doesn’t really put the problem into a context. Terrorist attacks are gruesome, high-profile and incredibly emotive, but looked at objectively represent a miniscule fraction of human activity. As Dan Gardner pointed out over a year ago, terrorism in Europe has been declining, and most terrorism aims to further specific nationalist issues (mainly Basque separatism).

What is particularly telling is that the decline is not just in terrorist attacks, but in failed and foiled plots as well. In other words, there aren’t just fewer terrorist incidents in Europe, there are fewer attempted terrorist incidents too.

Of course, you might argue that by creating a climate of fear and suspicion terrorists are unable to operate. I’m not sure I want to live in a society where the majority live in constant fear and suspicion of a small (but exaggerated) minority who would kill them.

According to the Global Terrorist Database there were just four terrorism-related fatalities in Western Europe in 2010, three in Greece and one in Sweden. When you compare it to around 700 smoking-related deaths per year in Wandsworth alone you have to wonder why we are so keen to create fear of terrorism.

This sign, one of many that have appeared around Clapham Junction after the recent murder there, caught my attention. It struck me as a surprisingly innovative approach to witness appeals, especially as the police (with good reason) place a lot of faith in traditional, tried and tested, approaches.

A few thoughts, positive and negative, occurred to me.

  1. Positive. As this is generic, it can be used almost immediately. I often thought that the old yellow boards probably didn’t help that much: they took time to make and place and the human memory is unreliable, meaning they perhaps didn’t gather much information while also serving to increase the fear of crime.
  2. Positive. Because it’s different, it attracts attention. People go numb to familiar items, and even though the yellow information boards may crop up in new places, I wonder how many are largely ignored.
  3. Negative. How many people are missed, either because they don’t have a smart phone, or more likely, aren’t familiar with functions that they don’t use that often? And even though I am familiar with my phone, it took a few minutes to connect (and the Bluetooth option didn’t produce any message at all).
  4. Negative. For years community safety messaging has discouraged people from getting their phones out as soon as they leave the station because it merely helps advertise high value goods in crowded places (in much the same way as ‘pick-pockets operate here’ signs aren’t that great, because most people instinctively feel their pockets to check wallets and purses, helping the pick-pocket find a target).
  5. Negative. Given the rise in identity theft and the increasing amount of personal information we use online and through mobile internet, isn’t it a little dangerous to encourage people to connect to horribly generic hotspots?

Is it a use of technology for the sake of it? I don’t know, but I’d be fascinated to see any long-term study of the results of different methods of witness appeal. And of course, the value of evidence may well outweigh the disadvantages of any particular method and that’s a judgement call the police have to make.

This particular appeal relates to the murder of Richard Ward, for which two arrests have been made, but if you have any information you can call the incident room on 020 8721 4961 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

When did the looting end?

Reflecting further on the Neil Kinghan report I cannot help but feel a resonance with another report by David Hunter I read a few months ago on public sector health partnerships (which I think has relevance to all partnerships).

Hunter’s conclusion, after getting through more than £250,000 on research, is that there is no proof that partnerships improve outcomes. In fact, they sometimes hinder improvements by placing restrictions on the frontline staff, and often, improvements credited to ‘partnership working’ only happen because those frontline staff are just getting on with it.

In other words, if you got rid of the formal partnerships nothing would be worse, and may well be better.

This goes against the orthodoxy that has existed since the nineties that partnership working is ‘a good thing’. Indeed, it’s often cited as ‘the only way’ now we are in a time of strained public finance. But while Hunter found lots of unquestioning endorsement of partnership working – partnerships are good because they just are – it seemed that no-one had really thought to assess the value of them.

The traditional model of emergency planning involves some fairly hefty documents drawn up by the relevant agencies, attempting to detail the responses to various situations, which should interface with each other where appropriate.

Somehow, all those plans came together on the night of 8 August. Simplistically you might think that on 8 August the police were responsible during the actual disorder, then the council took over for the clean-up and any response. But the true picture was far more complicated, with several organisations being involved to varying degrees throughout the period.

But, of course, nobody’s plan involved large-scale disorder or looting or rioting in Clapham Junction, with the police stretched across the capital and unable to respond, and a large fire affecting retail and residential property. So how did it work?

For all their length and complexity, emergency plans can never foresee every eventuality. The military adage that ‘no battle plan survives contact with the enemy’ is true in emergency planning. You can plan for the start of a generic situation, like public disorder, and you can attempt to foresee and plan for what happens next, but ultimately events unfold in a different way and decisions made in response to changing circumstances. (I’ve already commented on my belief that across London the rioters and broom armies were able to respond to circumstances far more quickly than any public agency.)

In any event, given that few people will have a comprehensive understanding of any of the plans, it might all seem a bit irrelevant.

But what links Kinghan and Hunter? Let me provide a couple of examples.

Throughout the rioting, the town centre manager was on the scene, and is mentioned in Kinghan’s report:

the role played by Lorinda Freint, the Town Centre Manager for Clapham Junction, has been universally praised, and described as “heroic” by one interviewee. She spent the whole evening helping people who were frightened by the disorder. She and the manager of the Wessex House nightclub provided a safe place for people to go to and helped them to escape the area without trouble.

She was a fabulous resource, working at the frontline, but doing so under her own direction. A prime example of that would not have been out-of-place in Hunter; exceptionally good work taking place despite the emergency plan and partnership structures which would not have had her on-site at all.

But if the communication had been in place, it’s not hard to see how much more use she could have been not only in helping those affected, but also in providing intelligence to the police and others, while still working within the general framework of the response laid out within the emergency plans. The response was good, but an opportunity was missed for it to be better.

Then consider the broom army. Again, not something that featured in any of the emergency plans, and again a fabulous resource ready to help everyone meet the aims of cleaning up Clapham Junction. In this example, however, that resource was used (after a few hiccoughs) to great effect. Perhaps because it was impossible not to communicate with several hundred broom-wielding residents!

Even before 8 August I’d been thinking about Hunter’s report in the context of emergency planning (and in the context of real examples like Norway and Japan), so immediately Neil Kinghan’s recommendation that frontline staff be involved and informed as part of the emergency plan struck me as absolutely right – the evidence of Hunter and 8 August backs this up. I just wonder (and since emergency planning is well above my pay-grade it can only be idle speculation) if we could go even further in thinking about the invaluable role, and discretion, of frontline staff.

Neil Kinghan’s report in the looting at Clapham Junction (and elsewhere) was published today.

It is, by necessity, not an in-depth look into the riots, they causes and consequences, but instead a first look: trying to show what happened and draw out some key recommendations. And it is, by the nature of the process, a balanced report. Having undertaken similar sorts of work (although never into anything like August’s looting) I know exactly how hard it is to divine anything exhaustive or definitive when you are interviewing people on issues that will often are a matter of opinion and recollection and not hard fact.

Reading through the final report I can see where I probably complicated matters for Mr Kinghan, but, even so, other than small matters (for example, I recall seeing photos of a vandalised Starbucks fairly early on the evening of 8 August) there is nothing with which I particularly disagree and much with which I agree.

Communication comes across as one area that can be improved, in pretty much every direction. This even when Wandsworth, I think, has a pretty good track record in communication. The lesson, perhaps, is that it can always be improved.

One of the things that struck me soon after the 8 August, is how the public sector lagged far behind rioters and broom army when it came to communication. This is even despite similar tools already existing; I was Wandsworth’s sole Yammer (which is effectively a private Twitter) member for over two years until after the riots; since then membership has swollen to a mighty three users!

Business recovery is the area that most directly affects me, and we’re already looking at what we can do and the funds that are being made available. Here the trick is in successfully managing the transition from the immediate response – helping businesses recover from the aftermath – to a longer term plan that supports and develops local businesses.

It is very much a “watch this space” until plans are more fully developed.

The whole report is publicly available via the council’s website. It is not – and openly admits it isn’t – a conclusive or definitive report on the disorder, and many questions remain unanswered, but a fascinating first look at the issues around 8 August.

Last week I wondered if most people had moved on from the riots, mentally consigning them to history and getting on as if they had happened in another time or place.

Last night I might have got an answer when 50 people attended the first of three public meetings being held at Battersea Arts Centre as part of the Kinghan review into the disorder.

I really didn’t know what to expect, and as a result am finding it hard to work out my reaction. Was an attendance of 50 good, and if so, why? To be sure, having 50 people to a public meeting (and I’m not a great fan of public meetings) is a large number by Wandsworth standards. But then this was also held in the most affected part of the borough, where thousands of people – residents and businesses owners – can legitimately claim to have been affected by the riots, so maybe 50 wasn’t such a good number.

In fact, the numbers weren’t even that good. A significant number of the audience fell into the category of ‘usual suspects’. (The term might seem derogatory, but isn’t intended that way, I include councillors as usual suspects.) At least thirteen councillors were there, as was the MP, Jane Ellison, and I would guess about half the people attending had some ‘political’ involvement in the area. This is not to discount their contribution, but we all have the advantage of being able to feed into the process in other ways.

The meeting itself was interesting. Neil Kinghan chaired it remarkably well and people were polite and courteous in hearing out others, even if they disagreed. Indeed, it struck me that the audience was remarkably balanced. For each burst of applause for someone speaking out against eviction or looking to blame the riots on social or economic factors, there was applause for someone putting the contrary view that most people managed to resist the temptation of a new TV and trainers regardless of deprivation.

In fact, it was notable that the first round of applause wasn’t given to anyone making political points, but to someone speaking up for Battersea in the Battersea/Clapham debate!

A large part of the meeting focused on the police. A few people pondered whether the police themselves were part of the cause, through heavy-handed use of stop and search, but by far the biggest area of comment and questioning was the police response, with people asking about the availability of officers on the night (52 Wandsworth officers had been deployed elsewhere) and the likely subsequent actions that will be taken.

Reflecting on the meeting today it struck me that there were two schools of thought about the causes: pure criminality or social and economic. Obviously it’s overly-simplistic see it as totally black-and-white, but most people leant more towards one school than the other.

I moved towards the criminality theory during the course of the evening.

So while some blamed bankers, I just couldn’t reconcile that with people attacking local businesses and sports fashion retailers rather than the banks.

And while some asked exactly what youth facilities were open on 8 August, I couldn’t help wondering whether that means the council has to act in loco parentis 24/7 if it wants to avoid criminality (or what difference it would make when over half those arrested are adults).

And if others believe we’ve discovered the price we pay for heavy-handed policing, does protesting against that really need people to plan drop-off points and collection vans for their stolen goods?

Fundamentally I couldn’t help listening to the different viewpoints and realising that it is deeply offensive to the vast majority of people who, regardless of circumstance, manage to go through their lives as law-abiding members of their community.

Everyone involved in the riots knows the difference between right and wrong. The question is not what excuse they (or we) offer for making the wrong decision on that night, but rather how they got to a stage where their moral compass was so weak, they could over-ride it at the expense of their local community.

I am not alone in spending a lot of time thinking, possibly brooding, about the recent disorder, and one of the things that has struck me is that, in many ways, there are things we can learn from the rioters. Just as we can learn from the responses of public agencies and things like #riotcleanup.

That might seem controversial (I’m not aware of anyone praising the looters organisational skills) and to some it might seem offensive. It certainly isn’t meant that way. Instead, it has struck me that just as we can learn from the positive public response and from how the police responded, we can learn from how a huge group of law-breakers formed, seemingly quickly enough to avoid giving enough advance notice to counter them.

Part of my thinking is influenced by recently re-reading a Demos report, Resilient Nation into the role of the public in resilience which I referenced in my speech at our recent Neighbourhood Watch conference and have had a blog post sitting in various states of drafting on exactly the topic of how we work, collectively, in those extreme circumstances like riots.

You could argue there are two case studies here: the rioters and the cleaners. I’d stress I have no inside knowledge other than what is publicly available.

Case study one: the rioters
From what you can gather via the media, it would seem they organised via Blackberry Messenger, nominating a meeting point at which they could congregate and then descend en masse to begin their looting.

It doesn’t seem there was any particular leadership structure, although obviously some people would have more influence than others. Indeed, it might well be that the method of selecting the unfortunate area to suffer was almost democratic, with unpopular suggestions being deleted and popular suggestions being forwarded until they became the dominant proposal (such a model could account for a number of the rumours circulating, as well as creating a few strong contenders until late in the day, meaning the police had to spread resources between them).

However, there was a clear vision of what they were doing: arriving in such numbers that the police would struggle to control them, leaving them able to loot with relative freedom.

Case study two: the cleaners
It is easier to see what happened with the clean-ups, because they organised far more transparently via, predominately, Twitter. Essentially, a number of people had the idea of turning up to help clean up. I was even one of them, and was going through the motions when it became clear that some of the meeting points and times were becoming very popular and gaining a lot of support.

Again, there doesn’t seem to have been any real leadership structure, but again, like any large group some people took on more responsibility, such as setting up the Riot Clean-up website.

And, again, there was a simple, clear and utterly compelling vision of what they were doing: they were going to clean up the mess in their town.

Parallels between the two
There are obvious parallels between the two, but I would argue the simplicity of the vision they both shared was a real strength — it resulted in a distributed leadership model that was incredibly powerful in achieving its aim. It didn’t actually matter that not everyone followed central orders, if they turned up late, or somewhere else, so what? There were plenty of people in the right place at the right time who all knew what they wanted to do.

The lessons are perhaps in how we work with that sort of model. With the cleaners it was easy. They actually had a shared vision with the police, council and businesses — they worked with them and were perfectly willing to respect their decisions. I’m willing to bet a lot more man-hours were spent patiently waiting behind cordons than cleaning, simply because those wanting to help recognised the police’s need to examine the scene took precedence over their will to clean.

But how does one deal with the distributed leadership of the looters? That’s the tricky question, and one I’ll leave for another time.

I’ve just been into the council’s Community Safety division to thank some of the staff for their response to Monday’s disruption.

It’s all too easy to overlook those that often work unseen, or who you might just think it’s their job. However, I felt it worthwhile publicly noting their work over the past few days which have been anything but their normal job.

They have, for example, been volunteering to take shifts in our CCTV control room so it can work round the clock (it normally closes after peak hours).

They have become the council’s central point of contact for anyone who wants to volunteer (and if you want to add your name to the list you can email

They’ve been hard at work collating and distributing information from many sources to whoever needs it, the council’s civil disorder web pages and the Safer Wandsworth Twitter feed and Facebook page.

There’s even one person in there who has returned from holiday to help out!

I was responsible for Community Safety for five years, and was always proud of what the Wandsworth team did. The past week hasn’t surprised me, because I knew they would rise to the occasion. But hearing about how they all pulled together and went above and beyond their usual duties touched me. Wandsworth is incredibly lucky to have such dedicated staff, and I had to offer them a small bit of publicity they so richly deserve.

Philip Beddows and Jenny Browne at the Clapham Junction clean-up this morning

Like every other decent person I was following what was happening in Clapham Junction and elsewhere last night with horror.

But while there has been and will be plenty written about last night (including, I suspect by me) I know that what is really important is not what happened in Clapham Junction last night – but what is happening in Clapham Junction now, and what will happen tomorrow and then every day after that.

Last night I started organising a #riotcleanup with people I know. It was quickly apparent this morning that pretty much everything that could be cleaned had been cleaned, but passing through Clapham Junction this morning on my way to a meeting with Wandsworth businesses and the police I was astounded at the volume of people still there, happily waiting for a chance to help clean up.

And in the meeting with businesses they were impressively focused not on recrimination, but on the future. Not on bemoaning the wanton destruction, but on how we quickly get back on our feet and then improve even further.

And later, returning through Clapham Junction, who couldn’t help but be uplifted seeing the numbers of helpers had grown massively. The team of brush-wielding Junctionites had become an army.

This is one of those days when you stop believing that London is the world’s greatest city because you KNOW London is the world’s greatest city.

We are not a city of a few mindless thugs and their vacant followers.

We are, instead, a city of magnificent people – both new and old – who collectively stand for something that is worth far more than an entire store of sports fashion or flat-screen TVs.

We should never lose sight that whatever shame can be attached to the riots it is as nothing compared to the pride we can all feel in our response today, tomorrow and every day after.

At tonight’s council meeting I’ll formally lose my responsibility for community safety in Wandsworth. While I’ve not had de facto responsibility for some time (indeed, since before the annual council meeting) the formality is a milestone.

But as a leaving present we have finally gone live with a social media presence for community safety in Wandsworth.

If you are on Facebook you can ‘like’ the Safer Wandsworth page.

And if you are on Twitter you can follow Safer Wandsworth.

Both are new, but there are big plans for both (and for more) and they will become excellent ways of keeping up-to-date with what’s happening to keep Wandsworth as inner London’s safest borough.