Birmingham police review community policies following outbreak of rioting

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The recent riots in Birmingham have prompted senior police officials to review four years of efforts to establish effective police relations with their community. Birmingham's law enforcement officers had particularly been working to establish closer contact with immigrant groups and better relations between police and families of black and Asian immigrants.

Officials are now asking if efforts in the past few weeks to confront a small minority involved in drug pushing may have placed police in a too-exposed position.

Trouble struck Monday in Handsworth, an inner city district of Birmingham, where unemployment is over 50 percent and drug abuse common. The original incident which appears to have sparked off the rioting was an attempt by a white police officer to arrest a black motorist whose license had expired. But police sources say they had evidence that violence had been planned and that the incident was only the pretext for the rioting.

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Hundreds of youths broke into shops, set fire to a post office, and attacked fire fighters attempting to put out a blaze. By Wednesday, police regained control.

A Labour Party member of Parliament from the area, Jeff Rooker, said unemployment had helped cause the violence, as had the reaction of West Indian youths to police efforts to curb drug traffic.

``We need to have a detailed breakdown of everything that happened. We then must analyze the facts. The results could provide pointers to avoiding or at least containing similar outbreaks,'' Mr. Rooker said. Local officials called for additional government money to be spent on urban renewal and fresh attempts to reduce unemployment.

A particularly nasty aspect of the rioting, local people said, was the obvious conflict between West Indian and Asian immigrants, who constitute the majority of Handsworth's population. However, the chief police official of the area, Geoffrey Dear, tried to play down the racial aspect of the rioting.

Many West Indians are unemployed, whereas significant numbers of shops and business premises in Birmingham are owned by Asians. When trouble began, many blacks turned their anger on the Asian community, which they perceived to be better off financially.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it was a high priority to restore order and to investigate the riot and its causes. At its annual conference at Torquay, the Social Democratic Party voted for the immediate calling of a public judicial inquiry into the violence.

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