When a riot in your hometown hits BBC news, it’s probably time to blog about it. For my international friends who haven’t heard, there was a St Patrick’s Day riot in London, Ontario in a neighbourhood made up predominantly of student housing.
I wanted to comment briefly on potential police response and preventing further occurrences. From the G20 protests, the Vancouver hockey riots, and this weekend’s St Patrick’s Day riot, it is clear that once these kind of events are in motion, police are ill-equipped, and likely ill-advised, to intervene. However, after the events are over, public ire often turns towards police forces with demands that they should have stopped it.
Well, we tried that during the G20, don’t you remember? You likely remember smashed windows and burning cop cars, but remember how at the end of the first day they went into the park and did mass arrests of peaceful protesters? Do you remember the kettles on the second day that caught up people out for dinner, and the TVO journalist Steve Paikin? This is what a heavy police presence and preventative arrests looks like, and it sure looks ugly. This was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, the vast majority of whom were released without charges. Do you remember the cages? The cold? The indignity?
And then of course there is the cost. Yes, we could use a massive police presence, go heavy on the arrests, and kettle people in, as ugly as it is; but freedom and human rights issues aside, do we really want to pay for this? Each major potential party we’re going to pay overtime for 100′s of SWAT officers? This would quickly make $100,000 of property damage look like peanuts. And, with police budgets taking an ever increasing portion of the City budget, what services will we cut to make this happen?
So, I conclude that the heavy police response is not the route any of us really want to go. In the search for quick and easy solutions it is tempting, but hopefully we can be more thoughtful than the easy and expensive. Other bloggers have begun to offer insight into possible solutions that focus instead on community-building; this is where we need to go.