Failure of Police to Deal With London Riots Blamed on Shoddy Radios

By Sam Gibbs on at

The London and UK riots are still somewhat of a sore point -- especially for the Police. A review by the Police Federation into the public unrest has thrown up a question as to why Police were always two-steps behind. The answer, it seems, maybe to do with the crappy radio service our emergency services have got saddled with.

The old-days of analogue radios are long-gone. Our Police, Fire and Ambulance services all rely on an out-sourced, ex-O2 operated "secure and encrypted" digital mobile communications network called Airwave. It operates a bit like the push-to-talk services available via mobile phone providers in the US -- combining the coverage and network element of a mobile phone network with the immediacy and wide-spread broadcast abilities of traditional radios.

Sounds like a great system, but by its very nature, the outsourced network relies on outsiders to keep it afloat. A year ago the Rozzers were asked to 'text' in reports instead of speak on the radios, because they were being charged extortionate fees of £2 a second for every 'call' made outside of their 'allowance'. Airwave, which is owned by the Macquarie Group, was making more money than Vodafone at that time.

The Police Federation has questioned whether the Airwave network was up to the job of dealing with the massive influx of officers on the street that was required to quell the TV-liberation front. A submission (PDF) to the inquiry said:

"[There were] significant local technical difficulties with the Airwave network that were compounded by force equipment compatibility issues. A direct consequence of communication failures was the use of unofficial channels.

Officers on the ground and in command resorted, in the majority, to the use of personal mobile phones to co-ordinate a response."

Of course Airwave stringently deny the accusation that their network was unable to handle the calls required, and they may be right; but that's a tad beside the point. I know that out-sourcing is all the rage, but when the service the company provides is as essential as emergency communications are, to have it be too expensive, or potentially not capable of supporting the needs of the users -- our own Police, Fire and Ambulance men and women -- that's just not on is it? [ZDNet UK]

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid from Getty