By Mark Wallace
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However they do it, it is a role that must be fulfilled. The alternative is a society which is cowed by criminals, which is inevitably mired in economic and social degradation.
For the police to acquiesce to crime is an abdication of their duty. That aquiescence starts at very low levels – when you think about it, posters telling people to hide their valuables due to the risk of pickpockets is a clear message that police are giving up, and resorting to victim-blaming rather than crime-fighting.
We saw this most vividly in the London riots. Faced with a situation which they found intimidating and had not prepared for, the Met's commanders effectively backed off when the riots began.
I know frontline officers who wanted to be out protecting life and property from violent thugs, but were ordered to hang back. The result was devastating – criminals were allowed the run of large parts of Greater London, others joined them as soon as the police's weakness became clear and in some areas civilians were forced to organise their own defence.
Things were only put right when the police, with assistance from forces across the country, went toe to toe with the rioters and reasserted control. Lesson learned – or so it seemed.
That this experience was so recent makes it all the more outrageous that police in Balcombe decided to show weakness in the face of anti-shale gas protestors at the weekend.
They announced that they could not protect the perfectly legal industrial site, and thereby allowed thugs to intimidate law-abiding citizens.
In their failure, they have simply encouraged yet more disorder and law-breaking at this and other sites – now the protestors have had a sniff of victory. Instead of preventing crime, they have made it more likely. Today's Telegraph covers the discomforted experience of Balcombe residents in the face of an army of professional green fanatics – Sussex police have simply made that problem worse and more widespread.
The Police and Crime Commissioner system should give a route for such institutional failings to be set right. So far the Sussex PCC has defended her officers' decisions, soft-soaping the fact that they essentially allowed law-abiding citizens to be successfully intimidated by a mob. That should change, and change soon, before her problem spreads across the country.