The most appalling sight during the summer riots was police officers in full Darth Vader riot gear standing aside and watching as criminals loot and destroy.
The helmeted officers, clutching their shields and apparently armed to teeth, had all the bite of a soggy egg sandwich.
They were not protecting life and liberty, they were merely directing the traffickers to the nearest electronics superstore.
Ineffectual policing is not the fault of officers on the front line. It’s the fault of their masters who have forced them to become an arm of the social services rather than the body employed to maintain law and order.
Their chiefs aren’t criminologists these days but sociologists.
They concentrate their efforts on what is known as “community policing”. That means sitting around listening to the whingeing of each and every allegedly oppressed minority.
It means offering a shoulder to cry on rather than stretching out the long arm of the law.
When police officers might think about getting tough, they’re intimidated by the threat of being pilloried by the BBC and Labour MPs or sued under European human rights laws.
In short, the police have gone soft.
The rioting of the 1980s may have been provoked by social conditions and youth unemployment.
But their result has been 25 years of appeasement-policing where officers are forced to pussyfoot around to avoid hurting anyone’s delicate sensibilities.
They offer care in the community even when the idea of “community” is highly misleading, because it implies one cohesive group of people and in most of our stricken cities nothing could be further from the truth.
In too many places, these “communities” are divided and discordant, with few shared values and very little sense of belonging – except, perhaps, for those in one of the violent drug gangs which too often seem to rule the roost.
The police know about these gangs. Indeed, it is because they were trying to deal with a leading thug that they ended up shooting Mark Duggan, provoking the first of the riots.
This may seem to counter the argument that the police have gone soft but if Duggan was a known gang boss – as we are led to believe – why wasn’t he banged up long ago?
Whatever the circumstances surrounding his death, the riots that resulted have nothing whatever to do with police brutality, Government cuts or social deprivation.
We have been witnessing opportunistic young thieves exploiting the police’s failure to control the streets.
When a woman can actually try on shoes before she steals them, a young lad can cycle home with a shopping basket of contraband and hooded youths can walk past riot police carrying stolen flat-screen TVs, law and order has broken down. This is anarchy.
It’s no use senior officers saying they will arrest the thieves later. Why not nick them in the act before clever lawyers and feckless parents can line up bogus defences for them?
The average policeman, for all his fearsome appearance, is afraid to act. Not because he’s worried about a bit of physical violence but because of the backlash if he happens to do these little darlings any harm.
When drunken 47-year-old paper seller Ian Tomlinson stumbled among the G20 rioters in London and died after being struck by a policeman, there was outcry.
No police officer is going to risk his career, pension and reputation by delivering a telling blow or two if he knows he’ll have to spend the next two years going through tribunals, inquiries and trials to justify himself.
We expect the police to protect us from harm but those who govern the country are not prepared to give them the ability to do their jobs properly.
Nobody wants to see a police state where officers are above the law and can get away with any sort of abuse.
But surely we have to accept that, in the face of lawlessness and looting, it is better to see the police crack a few skulls than to watch them stand back and admire the flames.
Most of those taking part in this riot of robbery were not much more than kids.
They have grown up, you can be pretty sure, without any discipline at home while, at many schools, teachers are in despair over their inability to control some of their pupils let alone get them to learn anything.
These thieving kids are used to getting their own way. The results have been seen on the streets of our cities.
They know no fear because they have little or nothing to fear. With the Government set to empty our jails and cut prison sentences, it’s not surprising looters laugh at the law.
These may be longer-term issues that need to be addressed. In the meantime, the police must win back respect for their office and the laws they are paid to uphold.
Robust policing is called for, tough and uncompromising.
Most appalled, law-abiding onlookers would like to see the a few more bleeding heads among the troublemakers and far fewer bleeding hearts among the ranks of the police.