British police will deploy about 12,500 officers to protect the Olympic Games after facing strong criticism for their lack of manpower and slow response to last year’s UK riots.
The Olympic operation, drawing officers from 52 forces across Britain, will bolster the 10,500 army personnel already tasked with securing the July 27 to Aug. 12 Games.
Planning was reviewed after Britain was stunned by violence in August last year that left five people dead and a trail of looted stores, torched cars and burned-out buildings in London and a few other cities.
Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Chris Allison, who is coordinating Olympic policing, said on Monday that lessons had been learned from the unexpected rioting.
“We are in a different place to where I think we were last summer, a number of sentences have been given by the courts which I think will act as a clear deterrent to people. Communities themselves have come out and said: ‘This is not acceptable,’” Allison told reporters inside Scotland Yard police headquarters in London.
He also said that now “we have command team in place, we have up to 9,500 officers on duty [in London] on peak days, unlike last summer when we didn’t.”
This time the streets of the capital will be flooded with officers in a pre-emptive move to dissuade anyone from causing mayhem as the Olympics return to London after 64 years.
“My hope is if anything were to happen ... we have the resources we can quickly assign to try to deal with it and nip it in the bud,” Allison said.
While insisting that officers on patrol will not be “oppressive,” Allison said there will be a robust response from the outset — unlike during the riots — with annual leave for officers heavily restricted and non-essential training postponed.
“We will follow the approach of intervening when we have the officers,” Allison said. “Our challenge last summer is we didn’t have those officers.”
Last month, the public was given a glimpse of what could be in store when police snipers and heavily armed officers intervened to stop an armed siege in London’s shopping district. No one was hurt.
The army operation will be using surface-to-air missile systems, typhoon fighter jets, helicopters, two warships and bomb disposal experts.
Inside the venues, which can only be entered through airport-style security, Allison assured the public that there will be no risks to their safety.
“They are probably some of the securest places anywhere in the country ... and these are people who just want to watch sport, so there are no crime challenges in there,” Allison said. “The vast majority of police officers will be out in the public space, in the public transport infrastructure, in the crowded spaces.”
Police will be deployed heavily in the capital’s tourist hotspots — including Covent Garden and Leicester Square — as well as at sites across London showing the Olympic action on big outdoor screens.
Allison hopes people will embrace the games rather than using them as a platform for anarchy.
“I am sure when the games come, everyone will be bitten by the Olympic bug,” he said.