England riots: Police dig in against PM’s ‘supercop’

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron's enthusiasm for a zero tolerance approach to crime in the wake of last week's rioting is meeting serious opposition from senior police figures.

The prime minister is bringing US 'supercop' Bill Bratton to London at the end of the month for a series of meetings where he will share his experience of tackling gangs while police chief in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, Downing Street said.

"We haven't talked the language of zero tolerance enough but the message is getting through," Mr Cameron told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"I think there is a danger sometimes of people seeking very, very complicated answers when there are quite simple [explanations].

"These people who were nicking televisions were not complaining about the reform of the education maintenance allowance or tuition fees.

"They were nicking televisions because they wanted a television and they weren't prepared to save up and get it like normal people."

His enthusiasm for a fundamental shift in the nature of British policing is facing real opposition from senior British police officers, who have spoken out against the PM's plans despite the ongoing race to be appointed as the next Metropolitan police commissioner.

"They will have their view and we will have our view, and at some stage we will discuss that," acting commissioner Tim Godwin said.

"The reality is we will make decisions based on what's in front of us and the number of people we have. We make those decisions and are operationally independent, and then are held accountable.

Sometimes it feels you're always being criticised – whether you're using too little force or too much force, or whatever."

The prime minister repeatedly called for Britain's gang problem to be addressed when answering questions from MPs in parliament on Thursday.

He is keen for the government to draw on experience and expertise developed in other countries as well as in the UK, No 10 said. Mr Bratton's advice will be unpaid.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, continued his critical approach to Mr Cameron's response to the riots, however.

"I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them," he said in an interview with the Independent on Sunday.

"It seems to me, if you've got 400 gangs, then you're not being very effective. If you look at the style of policing in the States, and their levels of violence, they are so fundamentally different from here."

Mr Bratton was reportedly being considered for the Met job, which he was quoted by ABC as describing as "the most prestigious, most complex, and at this time most challenging police leadership position in the world".

But home secretary Theresa May is thought to have told Mr Cameron that the appointment could not be made because Mr Bratton is not British.

Sir Hugh, the favourite to become the next permanent Met commissioner, said he had suggested to Ms May that "a more sensible approach" would be to look at European styles of policing.

"They, like us, are bound by the European Convention," he pointed out.

"My sense is, when we've done that, we will find the British model is probably the top. We will not get things right all the time. It's sad it takes an event like this to counter some of the more negative attacks on policing which is totally unjustified."

Ms May insisted that the police had been forced to change tactics, however, as she pointed out they had initially stood aside and allowed looting to take place.

"I was as concerned as the public were about the scenes we saw of people being able to loot without anything appearing to happen to them," she said.

"They wanted to see more police on the streets but also tough action to go in and arrest people, and actually that's what the police started to do."

Other senior UK officers have defended the police's approach to rioting. Ian Hanson of Greater Manchester police said Mr Cameron's interest in Mr Bratton was a "slap in the face" after a week which saw "British policing at its absolute best".

Mr Godwin added: "To say that the police have been timid I find extremely hurtful and untrue. I have some of the bravest, most courageous men and women that anyone has had the honour to lead."