Metropolitan Police officers prepare to raid a house in London as part of… (Lewis Whyld / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from London — Stung by criticism over its performance during recent riots, Scotland Yard plans to flood the British capital with officers this weekend during a popular street festival that will pose the agency's first major test after the outbreak of violence and disorder across England.
The Metropolitan Police Service, as Scotland Yard is formally known, has canceled all staff vacations and called in reinforcements from other police forces around the country to provide security during the Notting Hill carnival, a celebration of Caribbean culture that draws up to 1 million revelers to West London each year. Officials said more than 16,000 officers will be on hand through the festival Sunday and Monday, a national holiday.
The heavier-than-usual security presence is a result of the five nights of looting and arson that hit London and other English cities this month, causing five deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Many politicians and ordinary Britons have accused officers of being unprepared for the rampages and of even standing by while buildings were plundered and set afire.
On Thursday, police said the number of arrests stemming from the unrest had exceeded 2,000. More than 1,100 suspects have been charged with such offenses as burglary and arson, but only 82 people so far have been sentenced, about half of them given jail time.
A debate is also continuing over the extent to which social networks such as Twitter and the BlackBerry instant-message system were exploited by rioters to organize, gather and elude police. Last week, two young men were sentenced to four years in prison for trying to incite riots via Facebook, even though the violence never happened.
Some politicians have suggested that social networks should be shut down during public disturbances, but the idea has been lambasted by civil-liberties advocates and by police, who say such a move could deprive them of important real-time intelligence and deny residents a way to share information and keep abreast of developments.
Home Secretary Theresa May met Thursday with leaders of social networking companies to discuss how to increase cooperation between their industry and police. There was no indication that the government sought greater powers to shut down the networks.
Ahead of this weekend's Notting Hill carnival in London, police have arrested more than 30 people they believe could cause trouble during the festivities.
"We have intelligence to suggest that some gangs want to come to carnival and create trouble for us," Cmdr. Steve Rodhouse said. "Plus, we know that some people believe we will be diverted from policing the rest of London … leaving the rest of the capital without a policing presence."
"It is important to show that London is open for business," Rodhouse said.