The Metropolitan Police of London was unable to cope with extensive city-wide rioting this week because it failed to prepare itself for such a scenario, former senior Israeli police officers told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“If I’m commanding police forces during a riot, and I see rioters breaking into stores and emptying them out, and setting parked cars on fire, the only order I know to give is to storm the rioters, take them into custody, and use riot dispersal means if necessary,” said Micky Levi, who commanded the Jerusalem police district from 2000 and 2003.

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During his tenure, Levi oversaw riot-response operations in the capital on numerous occasions – from mass Palestinian disturbances, to soccer hooliganism.

“Police in London were caught off guard by the scope of the violence. If you are not on guard and wound up like a spring – physically, mentally, and operationally, your organization goes to sleep,” Levi said.

“A police force needs to be on standby, and have the correct equipment and personnel in place.”

Another key aspect missing from a successful riot-response policy is intelligence, Levi said.

“It does not look like the riots were completely spontaneous,” he said. “Field intelligence was missing, and this is a crucial part of preparations.”

Levi continued: “An important term here is ‘evaluation.’ This refers to meetings we hold in which commanders brainstorm various scenarios and plan out how to mobilize the forces at their disposal. My own view is that London police did not evaluate that the riots would spread to places that are not necessarily home to poorer ethnic minorities.”

But former Police commissioner Insp.-Gen. Assaf Hefetz, who headed the Israel Police from 1994 to 1997, stressed that most police forces in the world – including the Israel Police – encounter major difficulties when trying to cope with incidents on the scale seen in London this week.

“The guiding principle should be flexibility and ability to concentrate forces. Because the police is widely spread out in London, it has to allow for the possibility of focusing forces in specific areas, and prevent the snow ball from rolling off the top of the mountain.

Most police forces have failed to do this, including our own force,” Hefetz said, noting the 2008 Yom Kippur riots in Acre as an example of a police response that was too slow to prevent mass disturbances.

“Most police forces in the world don’t prepare correctly and don’t make the correct decisions in time. You need quick deployment, quick decisions and updated intelligence.

Police in London have only now decided to call in bigger forces. They should have done that immediately,” he said.

“If you don’t respond quickly to incidents such as those in London, they can quickly spin out of control. A handful of rioters can be joined by hundreds, and then thousands of others,” the former police chief said. “In such cases, calling in the army is not a shameful decision,” he added.

Cmdr. (ret.) Yaakov Borovsky, who headed the northern police district from 2001 to 2004, and who held senior operational planning posts beforehand, said, “Police in London didn’t get ready for the big scenario. They were ready for small situations like a soccer game. For the big scenarios, you need to create the ability to find out who is leading the violence on the ground [and arrest them].”

“There was no wave of arrests, and officers lacked any kind of offensive equipment.

All I saw was defensive equipment.

When you don’t take these steps, you’re inviting more violence,” he added.

Borovsky said the Israel Police has mapped out five to six centers of potential massdisturbance zones in the country – involving thousands of potential rioters, which could erupt simultaneously – and has trained its districts to speedily mobilize large numbers of forces to the flash points.

“When you see a failure on the ground, it means that prior thought and preparations were absent,” he concluded.

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