Home secretary Theresa May has postponed a decision on the use of water cannon by the Metropolitan Police until after the general election.
Last year, despite previously opposing their use, and the London Assembly's vote against them, Boris Johnson gave the Met the go ahead to buy three second-hand water cannon at a cost of £218,000. Labour London Assembly crime spokesperson Joanne McCartney called the purchase 'ill-judged' and urged the Mayor to sell them:
“It’s time for the Mayor to accept he was wrong and to sell the water cannon he has already bought so we can reinvest the money in things the Metropolitan Police actually need.
“The London Assembly have spoken with a clear and cross-party voice on this subject — we do not want water cannon in London. I am glad the home secretary agrees with us.”
We're not altogether surprised — who wouldn't be tempted to put off an unpopular decision until after an election when the party's position could be more secure or no longer their problem anyway. Could there also be an implied smackdown of Boris Johnson for jumping the gun on buying the damn things in the first place? Who knows. One thing's for sure, deputy mayor for policing and crime, Stephen Greenhalgh seems prepared to soldier on regardless, saying in the Guardian:
“We have made our case, which Londoners support, and as the police have repeatedly said, it is very unlikely that water cannon will be needed.
“However if they were, we now have the equipment and the officers trained and I have no doubt that any home secretary would want to give a licence very promptly in such an event.”
The claim that Londoners support the use of water cannon is questionable — the MOPAC survey of 4,200 people revealed 52% said they know a little about water cannon, while 27% feel they don’t know a lot. 36% think they are already in use by the police, 41% don’t think they are and 24% don’t know. Conservative London Assembly Member Tony Arbour has mooted the use of sound cannon instead, saying they have been successfully deployed in New York and Barcelona:
“In emergency situations, such as the 2011 riots, where order breaks down, missiles are being thrown and shops looted by mobs, the police would benefit from having sound cannon. Costing as little as £18k, 25 times cheaper than water cannon, they look like satellite dishes and emit a targeted, high pitched alarm tone in short bursts."
Sound cannons, also known as Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD), emit high frequency sound waves up to 149 decibels. Police in the US have used them, but the devices have been criticised over the potential damage they can cause to hearing.
With the Mayor's policing budget in ever-increasing decline, we can think of better things to have spent £218,000 on. Still, at least they'll have something to water the Garden Bridge with.