Curfew caution

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KNEE-JERK policies have a history of being counter-productive, as Kenneth Baker can attest following his rushed, and ultimately botched, introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act 20 summers ago.

As such, the current Home Secretary is right to proceed with caution over the imposition of night-time curfews following last week’s riots – or the use of rubber bullets.

The populist approach would be for Theresa May to authorise such measures in order to appease the “armchair police”. The more responsible course of action is to look at the practical consequences.

Take curfews. Some criminal justice experts have contended that they should come into force at 5pm. Yet there were instances last week when widespread disorder was erupting in mid-afternoon.

Such behaviour orders will also only work if they are rigorously enforced and that will require a large number of police officers to do so.

The problem, from Mrs May’s perspective, is that her department is not exempt from the coalition’s deficit reduction measures, and that she and senior police chiefs disagree on how many officers will lose their jobs.

She spoke about police forces working together on procurement issues to achieve even minor savings, but this has already been happening in Yorkshire for many years in order to offset some of the Home Office’s cuts.

As such, Mrs May is right to work with the police to formulate clearer guidance on how officers respond to major disturbances in the future. But it should not end here. She, and her colleagues, need to build bridges with senior police chiefs on a range of issues so that fewer disagreements are aired in public. In short, the public’s goodwill, illustrated by the law-abiding majority’s response to the riots, will only be maintained if the police and the Government start to speak with one voice.