If you are expecting to be confronted by a concrete jungle on the Portobello Road at this year’s Notting Hill Carnival, then perish the thought as your face is more likely to be scanned by sophisticated high-tech cameras noting every contour. But you can smile if you are not on the watch list.
ANPR, Super-recognisers, Facial Recognition, Knife Arches, Proactive Arrests; These are just some of the tools the Met Police will be using to police Europe’s biggest street party at this year’s Notting Hill carnival in west London. Add to the mix an epidemic of terror attacks, knife violence, acid attacks and moped-enabled muggings that has plagued the city in recent months and you can see why law enforcement officials have become nervy. All this in the wake of the Grenfell fire disaster in the neighbourhood which claimed 80 lives.
And already there is some controversy swirling around policing methods as grime star Stormzy hit out at a police twitter post for heavy-handed tactics in its sweeping arrests across the capital where intelligence-led operations ahead of carnival has led to 290 arrests and sizeable drug seizures. He sought to make a comparison with another popular outdoor festival asking: “How many drugs did you lot seize in the run up to Glastonbury or we only doing tweets like this for black events?” Police will want to tread carefully with sensitivities whilst avoiding the pitfalls of racial profiling.
An unapologetic Met Police maintains the tactics are right for the times we live in. It says it will continue targeting those coming to the event to commit crime and trouble, both up to and during the weekend of the world-famous event. Officers will also be keeping a watchful eye on troublemakers bent on travelling into the carnival area.
CCTV will keep a bird’s eye view over the carnival routes, giving officers an additional tool to keep the crowd safe, stop crime and catch any criminals. In addition to the officers on the ground, highly-skilled officers who can recall offenders’ faces after seeing them briefly either in person or on file – so-called ‘super-recognisers’ – will be monitoring the event live from a CCTV control room. These officers will seek out anyone who has bail conditions which prohibit them from attending the event, as well as quickly identifying offenders committing crime.
Facial recognition technology will be used for the first time in the capital to target those with bail conditions to keep them away from the event. Officers will be using intelligence-led stop and search and Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology at carnival foot-entry points and key routes into Notting Hill to stop trouble makers from gatecrashing the street party. In addition to a roster of 9,000 police personnel, unconfirmed backup will also be available in the form of plainclothes soldiers carrying arms who will mingle with revellers.
Europe has experienced around a dozen cases of drivers using a car or truck to plough into pedestrians like the most recent attack in Barcelona, but cities have not rushed to mitigate the risks by changing their layout.Concerns about cost, a fear that evolving security threats will make redesigned streetscapes obsolete and a reluctance to disrupt everyday life are among reasons cited by security experts, executives and municipal officials.
Lord Harris of Harringay who has produced a detailed report on anti-terror measures for the London mayor recently told BBC’s World at One programme it was not acceptable not to do anything to protect people. He understands the mayor is working with London’s boroughs to study which parts of the city are most crowded and design various barricades to protect pedestrians at peak times. He advocates designing temporary or permanent physical deterrents to prevent van and car attacks across the city.
“We don’t want to be Hebron,” said Els Ampe, Deputy Mayor of Brussels, referring to the city in the West Bank where Palestinians and Israeli settlers are often separated by concrete and steel barriers.
Brussels has 45 hectares of pedestrian zones, including many narrow winding streets, she said, and installing barriers to vehicles on many of these streets would restrict access for people who live, maintain facilities and conduct business there.“You cannot block every street. You have to live and shops need to have deliveries. We have to have a compromise between security and still living in the city,” she added.
Cross-continent data on cities’ investment in physical security measures on their streets is not available, but two companies specialising in selling security equipment said an expected sharp growth in their market had yet to happen. Damasec, a Danish company and Avon Barrier Corporation Ltd., from Britain, both make reinforced benches, planters and other street furniture as well as the more traditional bollards and barriers, said sales had increased, but not as much as expected. “It’s growing but it’s growing slowly,” says Damasec Chief Executive Henrik Faerch.
Avon Barrier’s Managing Director Paul Jeffrey said sales were robust in Britain but Europe was “a bit of an enigma”. “Nothing much seems to be happening,” he added.
Barcelona said ensuring total security was impractical after some residents said officials should have done more to prevent vehicle access to Las Ramblas, a long, wide pedestrian area with roadways on each side where 13 people died in the terror attack.
“We can’t fill up Barcelona with bollards,” Joaquim Forn, who runs home affairs in the Catalonia region, told Spanish radio. Some affected cities have spent heavily, however.
Nice has installed new barriers, changed traffic layouts and taken other measures since a man drove a truck into a Bastille Day celebration on its seafront promenade, killing 86 people. The southern French city’s wealth is an important factor.
“Nice has invested massively. Most cities can’t afford to invest that massively into reorganizing traffic and public spaces, so they are doing it within their means,” said Elizabeth Johnston, Executive Director of the European Forum for Urban Security, a network for local and regional authorities.
The sheer scale of the challenge of making a city safe was financially daunting for municipalities, she said.
“It’s not just one avenue or one corner of a street. Everyone is conscious that if you harden one target, the attack might take place in another target. The budgetary issue is huge. These are unplanned expenses.”
London is one place where extensive investment in security — including its famed ‘ring of steel’ around the financial district — failed to prevent an attack.
Westminster council helped to develop its own variant of bollard and installed them across the wealthy central borough, home to Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament.
But it did not put them on Westminster bridge, where an attacker drove a vehicle into pedestrians in March, before getting out and stabbing others, killing five people. Steel barriers have subsequently been erected on the bridge crossings.
Damasec’s Faerch said the UK is more willing to make compromises between freedom, aesthetics and security because of its long history dealing with militant attacks, mainly Irish separatist groups like the Irish Republican Army.
Professor Pete Fussey, a criminologist at University of Essex said London’s preparations for the 2012 Olympics also prompted increased focus on the risks of vehicle attacks.
Fussey said it took time for authorities to change their thinking on security risks. European cities would begin to give more attention to hostile vehicle risks in street design, although money will be a factor in deciding when, he said.
“It’s mainly municipal agencies (that undertake this work) and their funding cycles take a lot of time,” he said, adding that disputes over who should pay – central government or cities – may delay new measures.
Brussels’ Ampe said additional security resources would be better employed on intelligence work to identify potential attackers before they strike.
Aesthetics are another important factor.
Reinforced benches, lampposts and bins have to be chunky to meet the security industry’s benchmark for ‘Hostile Vehicle Mitigation’ – able to stop a 7.5-tonne truck traveling at 50 miles per hour.
The ‘Westminster bollard’ is a ribbed one-metre tall manganese steel pillar, with a tapering rectangular shape. Even painted black it is highly visible and takes up pavement space.
Some government papers have suggested trees can be used as attractive features to stop attacks like Barcelona, the December 2014 attack on pedestrians in Dijon, France or the one at the Berlin Christmas market in December which killed 12 people.
But Professor Jon Coaffee of the Resilient Cities Lab at the University of Warwick said he had never seen trees work in practice. “This is an issue of expense, maintenance, invasive root systems or in one case that the outline of the trees would spoil the look of the building,” he said.
More often, security measures may require removing aesthetic features, including trees.
Jeffrey said plant pots, bins and seating can be made to look “pretty” but admitted “they are what they are. There’s not a massive range.”
Authorities did not have to take an all-or-nothing approach, he said. Positioning existing benches, bins, lamp posts and other street furniture to ensure a driver does not have a long clear run at pedestrians could limit any casualty count.
Britain is also exploring ways of stopping the ‘malicious’ use of hired vehicles, including looking at what more rental companies can do, the transport ministry said in the wake of the two attacks in Spain.
The attacks — one in Barcelona where a van was driven into crowds, killing 13 people, and another in Cambrils that saw five men drive a vehicle along a walkway, killing a woman – echoed tactics that have been used by Islamist militants in London.
The police say that the use of hired vehicles makes such attacks very hard to prevent.
“The threat from terrorism is changing and so must our response. That is why we are reviewing our counter-terrorism strategy and powers and why we have ploughed extra resources into counter-terrorism,” a government spokesperson said.
“The Department for Transport is also working with the police and the vehicle rental industry to explore what more can be done to prevent the malicious use of hire vehicles. This includes looking at what more rental companies could do before an individual can hire a vehicle.”
The country has increased the number of barriers at bridges and in certain locations in city centres to try to prevent such attacks. Since March, Britain has seen four attacks, three involving a vehicle deliberately driven at pedestrians.
Vehicle hire firms make various checks before granting a vehicle rental, including verifying that customers have a full driving licence, additional identification and a valid credit card.
Similarly, Italy’s Interior Ministry has instructed its local officials to begin to track truck rentals. The ministry wants each heavy vehicle hire to be communicated to local police.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
That the carnival is going ahead is a testament to the resilience of Londoners and the commercial realism of some of the most-visited cities of the world in what is turning out to be a wretched summer. Some major outdoor events like Chelsea’s Premier League winners’ parade were cancelled after some of the recent terrorist attacks. But it also sends out a negative message to investors and tourists about how unsafe a city has become. The economy can also suffer a catastrophic collapse that can take years to recover from.
Dan Creasey was in a bar close to his coffee stall in London’s Borough Market when three Islamists ploughed a van into pedestrians before stabbing revellers and tourists. Two months later, he is back at work in the 1,000-year-old market, feels “100 percent safe” and says customers have not been deterred either.
The June 3 attack on Borough Market was one of a series by Islamist militants on European tourist hotspots in the past two years, the latest in Barcelona on Thursday (17 August) when a van was driven into crowds on the Las Ramblas boulevard, killing 14.
In European capitals that have already seen such attacks — London, Paris and Berlin — the mood remains one of defiance tinged with an acknowledgement that some visitors might be scared off.
“It’s very scary, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to deter me,” said British tourist Stephen Bishop, 47, outside Paris’s Bataclan Theatre where 89 people were killed when it was stormed by Islamists in 2015.
“My message is, don’t give in. Don’t be a coward. Live your life as normal,” Bishop said.
On Berlin’s Breidscheidplatz, where 12 people were killed in a truck attack on a Christmas market last year, people were philosophical.
“You can’t hide,” said Jutta Laggies, a tourist from the Sauerland region. “It can happen at any time and any place. The last thing to do is stop going outside just because there are attacks like this. That’s when I think we mustn’t let ourselves be cowed.”
France has lived under a state of emergency since the 2015 attacks and Paris and London have brought in security measures to cope with incidents where vehicles are used as weapons.
In Paris police and military units patrol the main tourist sites and permanent barriers and concrete blocks have been erected, particularly at entrances to the banks of the Seine where pedestrians gather.
Similar defences have been put up on bridges across the Thames in London and police, who still routinely do not carry guns, have stepped up armed patrols.
“The problem is that you can tighten the net, but there will always be holes. There is nothing simpler than carrying out an attack of this kind,” said a Paris town hall official.
At Borough Market, where eight people died in the June attack, tourists once again crammed into the narrow alleyways of food stalls and restaurants.
The market was shut for 11 days after the attack while police gathered evidence and since it reopened there have been new bollards, more security and patrols by armed officers.
“HOW CAN YOU STOP IT?”
“I think you’re safer here than anywhere else in London, said fruit stall owner Jock Stark, 68, who has worked in the market for 50 years. “How can you stop it? It’s something we’ve got to live with nowadays.”
Traders like Stark are bullish but there is a sense that things are not quite the same.
“I think people are a bit more paranoid and Saturdays are down … the tourist days.” said 19-year-old student Verity Hobbs, who was working on the family’s Meat Roast stall.
“Every time something happens, even if it’s here or in Europe, people become reluctant to come to places like this,” she said.
Visitors to the market were aware of what had happened but sanguine about any risks.
“It was definitely on my mind,” said Emily Randell, 26, a tourist from Australia. “The chance that you’re in the spot that something happens is so slim that you can’t spend your life not going to places because it might happen.”
For some though, the memories of June’s rampage remain raw. Diana Calvo, 36, manager of the Colombian Coffee stall, saw one of the attackers with a knife and later two bodies as she fled. She spent five days shut in her home and her doctor told her not to work for two weeks.
“I cannot sleep properly,” she said, adding that business was quiet and people were scared.
Whether such a reaction is the main aim of attackers is unclear. In most incidents, perpetrators have left no “martyrdom videos” to explain their motives. While Islamic State has often claimed responsibility, British security services said there was little evidence to back this up.
For those like pensioner Marion Harrison, visiting Borough Market with her family from Manchester, if the militants aim was to scare people, then they had failed.
“I didn’t hesitate to come,” she said. “I’ve been down Las Ramblas three or four times. It wouldn’t stop me going again, the same as it wouldn’t stop me going again to any of the other places. We’re not put off. You can’t live your life in fear.”
AN ATTACK IS HIGHLY LIKELY
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the UK lead for Counter Terrorism Policing described the evolving nature of the security threat: “The current threat is global and it is only by working together that it can be defeated. Our network of counter-terrorism police liaison officers posted in locations around the world help us connect investigations internationally. We have a long tradition of collaboration with the very capable Spanish police on terrorism matters.
“In the UK the current threat from international terrorism remains ‘severe’ meaning an attack is highly likely. Activity by police and the security services continues around the clock to disrupt and prevent further attacks in the UK.
“We remain on a heightened state of readiness and are continually reviewing our security arrangements to reflect the threat we are facing. We ask that people remain alert, vigilant but not alarmed and report anything suspicious to us at the earliest possible opportunity.
“People with information about those suspected of being involved in terrorism should call the confidential hotline on 0800 789 321 or gov.uk/ACT. In an emergency dial 999.”