Teachers and community leaders could be brought in to help police tackle future riots in Birmingham by speaking directly to young people taking part and urging them to go home, an inquiry commissioned by the city council has suggested.
The city council could also be ready to arrange alternative activities for people caught up in riots and looting because of the “party” atmosphere – including official clean-up sessions or even outdoor raves complete with professional DJs.
The proposals are contained in a detailed 80-page report by Peter Latchford, an entrepreneur and Professor of enterprise at Birmingham City University, who was asked to look at Birmingham City Council’s response to last August’s riots by Alan Rudge, the council’s cabinet member for Equalities and Human Resources. He has published an interim report, based on conversations from 130 people, and the findings have been published for consultation. In a detailed study, Mr Latchford praised council officials, police, teachers, faith leaders and community leaders for promoting a calm response following the deaths of three people in Winson Green – and says: “The nation should be grateful to Birmingham’s people.”
But the report also warned that a second round of riots could be far worse, partly because some of those involved in August’s violence will have learned how to avoid being identified and arrested.
Mr Latchford said: “If nothing new were done, and a similar event happened again, I suspect that the outcomes would be worse, possibly much worse.
“Criminal opportunists would be more ready. Extremist opportunists would take their chance. The citizens of the city would struggle to understand what was happening; leaving fear and aggression, its offspring, to spread.”
Among the ideas put forward are proposals to “mobilise signi?cant numbers of authority ?gures” including teachers and community leaders, to work alongside the police, “calling out to rioters by name; asking them what on Earth they thought they were doing.”
The study also said: “When it became clear that a good number of younger people were heading for the city centre “like zombies”, we might have decided to hold a party for them – a ?ash-mob DJ-set, playing throbbing music somewhere central (eg outside the Bullring), adults handing out bottles of water, and with discreet security around the sides.
“This may well have attracted the “partygoer” segment of the participants, distracting them from any disruptive behaviour, and displaying an overt adult interest in their needs.”
Mr Latchford said many people responded to looting and rioting by attempting to defend their property, but there was a danger this could lead to vigilantism which could simply spark more violence.
However, it would probably prove impossible to persuade residents to stay in their houses next time, he said.
He suggested police should work with “competent volunteer adults in all parts of the city, starting with the most vulnerable areas, to build a greater self-policing capability.”
The report added: “I suspect that young male rioters would be significantly less likely to do silly things if there are being watched by large numbers of older adults in ?uorescent vests.”
The study warned that some young people didn’t feel Birmingham offered them a bright future – and suggested Birmingham could aspire to become “Europe’s young persons’ city”.
It said: “Birmingham could set out to be an incubator of young success, where young people de?ne what success is.”
The report also highlighted tensions between different ethnic groups in Birmingham. And it warned that while people from all walks of life tended to support “British values” or “Birmingham values”, there was also a tendency to imagine that people from other backgrounds did not.
It asked: “How do we ensure that our young men know that many of their ancestors (Jamaican, South Asian, African) did indeed ?ght and die for the Britain, and its values, that they live in? – that it is very much their country.”
And the study suggested drawing up a Birmingham “Chivalry Code” which the entire city could unite around.
It said: “For our boys, we might ground all this in explicit links to military history, to the heroism of our ancestors, and the strengths of the system that they bequeathed us.”
A full copy of the report can be downloaded at http://www.beautifulbirmingham.co.uk/.
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