Metropolitan Police outline harsh options for future riots

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Water cannon being used in Northern Ireland
Nationalist youths shelter from a police water cannon during a riot in Belfast. Photo: Reuters

There was more talk today from the Met about the use of harsher tactics against rioters in the future.

The latest report on how police handled (or mishandled) last summer's disturbances makes clear once more commanders were close to using plastic bullets.

It also reiterates the shift in police thinking on the use of water cannon: what was once unthinkable is now debatable.

Both types of paramilitary equipment remain highly controversial, not least amongst the officers who would have to use them.

Riot police during disturbances in August 2011
Riot police block a street in east London during the riots in August 2011 Credit: Reuters

Cannon can only be used in very particular circumstances (wide open spaces) and are slow to deploy.

Plastic bullets have never been used outside Northern Ireland and any officer considering authorising their use will be be weighing up the political risks as much as the practical ones.

Some may dismiss the report as more hosepipe-rattling from the police hoping to send a message to potential troublemakers.

In fact, it's aimed as much at the law abiding as the criminal with chiefs hoping laying out the options will prompt the public to give a clear indication of how harsh they are willing to let the police be when dealing with major public disorder.