We have long taken pride in the mature and responsible relationship that exists between police and society in Britain. Compared to many parts of the world, including the USA, Germany and France, the British (unarmed) bobby on the street has always been more than just a voice of authority. Our police are as focused equally on the local community where they prevent the causes of crime, as they are on tackling the consequences.
The scale of pointless violence and mayhem which has spread across England has been an abrupt reality check. This relationship has broken down. From Hackney to the leafy suburb of Ealing, communities throughout and beyond London have experienced the worst riots in living memory.
Gangs of youths have quickly organised themselves online in order to instil sheer terror on high streets. During rush hour mobs of children - some as young as eight- were able to rampage through town centres, looting shops, smashing cars and burning homes. This is the most appalling orgy of violence in living memory and reflects a small but growing part of our society that has no fear of the police and no respect for the community they live in.
As Parliament is recalled, questions about the demise of moral standards, parental responsibility, over- reliance on benefits and cuts to community funding will no doubt be asked. But before that long and detailed post mortem begins I want to emphasise this: it is our first duty is to ensure the police have all the power and resources to keep the public and streets safe.
Until all corners of society once again respect authority, we must modernise police tactics so they are empowered to resolve such examples of inexcusable behaviour.
The first tactical change should be the introduction of water cannon. Some argue against its use - 'it's not who we are'. But the barbaric behaviour witnessed across England is not who we are either. As the public want to see every hooligan, looter and agitator arrested, it also expects the expeditious suppressing of gang violence before it escalates to uncontrollable levels. Only through the introduction of the water cannon can our over stretched police achieve this.
The second tactical change would be control over mobile phone usage. After the 7/7 attacks the London mobile network was shut down for fear of further attacks being triggered remotely. Many of these mindless attacks were co-ordinated via group messaging on Facebook and Twitter. A temporary close down of either the full networks or just GPRS (allowing GSM - normal phone use) to continue would be a brief inconvenience that the general public might be happy to endure.
A third change might come from us. How should the silent majority, horrified and sickened by opportunist violence react? Of course we should not put ourselves in harm’s way - that is the job of the police. But could we, through sheer numbers, take a stand and protect our community? This is not a call for vigilantism but for society to unite against random acts of violence by occupying and taking ownership of our community rather than just walk on by.
As Britain now comes to terms with the scale of morale vacuum and the growth of the 'I want it now generation' can we be so surprised that standards have dropped? A growing number of youngsters today spend more time on the internet than speaking to their parents - their virtual world is just as important to them as the real one. And visit to many town centres on a Saturday night; are not the ever-decreasing standards of public behaviour (which go relatively unchecked and therefore seen as the norm) not so many notches away from recent events?
As we come to terms with what is nothing short of a national disgrace we as a nation have some important and difficult questions to answer.