London Mayor Boris Johnson defended a decision to buy three water cannons from Germany for possible deployment against rioters, even though their use has yet to be approved by U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May.
The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime said in a statement yesterday that it’s planning to purchase three used vehicles from the German Federal Police for about 30,000 pounds ($50,000) each. Including transportation and refitting costs, the cannons would cost a total 218,000 pounds. Buying the secondhand cannons, which are available for sale until the end of July, would save 2.4 million pounds relative to the cost of new equipment, according to the mayor’s office.
“I think it highly likely that approval will be granted,” Johnson told LBC radio today. “The problem was that if we waited and we were continually waiting for this approval, if we waited any longer, we would have missed the window to buy them for the very good price that we’ve got.”
The possibility of using water cannons, which have never been deployed in mainland Britain for riot control, has been under discussion since the August 2011 unrest that saw looting and arson in London and other English cities. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has said that while there’s a “small, limited role” for the equipment, water cannons would be “rarely used and rarely seen” on the streets.
“The right process is being followed,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today. “The government’s approach is to work alongside the police, to listen to the issues they raise and ensure they have the tools and resources they need.”
Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green members of the London Assembly criticized the move by Johnson, a Conservative like Cameron and May.
“The mayor’s obsession with changing the culture of British policing beggars belief,” the Liberal Democrats’ leader in the assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, said in a statement. “The mayor looks set to destroy our proud tradition of policing by consent for good.”
Challenged by LBC presenter Nick Ferrari to stand in front of a jet of water from a cannon to show it’s not dangerous, Johnson said he doesn’t “mind proving that they’re safe in any reasonable way,” before adding: “All right, you’ve challenged me to this. I suppose I’m going to have to do it now.”