Water cannon: policing by consent?

Water Cannonsource: The Justice Gap
published: June 2014

On 10 June, the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) announced that it had given the Metropolitan Police Service permission to purchase three second-hand water cannons, pre-empting the Home Secretary’s authority for the weapons to be used on the British mainland.

Since that announcement, debate has raged about the safety of the weapons and their capacity to kill or to maim, culminating in Boris Johnson’s offer to be ‘blasted’ by water cannon to ‘prove’ their safety.

This is the wrong debate.

As with all weapons, water cannon are neither ‘safe’ nor intended to be ‘safe’. Water cannon are not garden hoses but ‘less lethal’ weapons for use in dangerous, violent situations.

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ own, somewhat ambiguous, briefing paper notes that ‘the term “less lethal” (as opposed to non-lethal) accepts that water cannon are capable of causing serious injury or even death’.

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