London's Metropolitan Police have traded glass for lives, letting rioters riot and looters loot as mobs roved around London. After harsh criticism of their crowd control efforts in the past few years London's summer riots are an opportunity to rebuild their reputation.
The moment to prevent the riots was in the drizzly night of Saturday the 6th of August. The way to do it was massive, restrained police presence; but police restraint was already in question because local player Mark Duggan had been shot and killed by armed police. So the rioters and looters who displaced the Tottenham protesters demonstrated that rioting and looting would be a good night out, and the moment was gone.
As larger numbers rioted and looted on Sunday it became very clear that arrests and identification would be few and the sense of impunity grew. Fire and news crews were intimidated into impotence. Monday's looting seemed to become more lusty and violent.
The Met Police, bruised by public disapproval of the very techniques that might have stopped these riots in their tracks, are in the awkward position of talking up a few arrests. Reports of injury and violence against people have been vanishingly few, but the smoking rubble of Croydon will push that out of the news.
Years of civil contingency and resilience planning seem to have produced no coherent way of gaining or controlling civil disorder in London, which is perhaps the most shocking thing.
Instant pundits on the news channels snigger as journalists ask whether the Army should be called in. Of course the Army is busy elsewhere fighting a war, and it's been years since the Army has been trained in public order duties. The battalion that was once quartered at Uxbridge is gone. The embarrassment of the Household Cavalry turning up at Heathrow in tracked vehicles got them struck off the invitation list.
I can only assume that the Commanding Officer of the infantry battalion in Woolwich Barracks is ginning up a quick course in defending their base from a mob of their countrymen.
As the mob rages and burns its way through Notting Hill it suddenly seems bizarre that the police have no water cannon to disperse them. Two days after the rioting began, it seems odd that county forces have only just been asked for reinforcements, and their promise of 300 officers seems pathetically few. As riot police hold the line on television, it seems odd that they are not backed up by arrest teams with cases of plasticuffs and Black Marias.
It seems strange that there is no longer an RAF aircraft ready to transport the Prime Minister back to London at the drop of a half-brick, but of course the Queen's Flight is no more.
A crowd of Turkish immigrants in Hackney reportedly counter-charged looters who reeled back in shock.
Last week the idea of plastic baton rounds, "rubber bullets", flying at Londoners would have seemed awful. On Monday night the solid burghers of Clapham Junction were wondering why the panoply of riot control wasn't deployed: no riot gas, no barriers, no baton rounds, no water cannon. The rioting kids looted plasma TVs and the neighbours watched in shock.
The Police are using the only tactics and equipment they have available, and struggling to keep up. London Transport has been unprepared, stranding law-abiding citizens and transporting rioters to their next electronics shop. Firefighters, unescorted, had to let fires burn. Mainstream media, surprised that they are not welcomed by looters, are keeping their satellite vans out of riot areas.
The Leader of the Opposition expressed himself shocked. Shock is the key word: London, and not only its emergency services, is shocked. The Government is shocked. The Opposition is shocked. The Mayor is shocked. The mainstream media is shocked.
This broad strategic shock comes from wishful thinking about the future. Nobody envisioned this future for London last week or last year. Because it was unthinkable we didn't think about it, we didn't prepare for it, and now we don't know how to deal with it.
Follow Dr Lynette Nusbacher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Nusbacher