Home Secretary Theresa May last night fuelled the row with Sir Hugh Orde and police chiefs over political criticism of the initial riot response — by insisting it was her job to tell forces “what the public want them to do”.
She refused to accept complaints that politicians were overstepping the line after the head of Scotland Yard attacked “extremely hurtful and untrue” claims that police had been timid.
She defended the Government's determination to press ahead with police budget cuts, saying they could be made “without affecting their ability to do the job the public want them to do”.
And she defended the decision to recruit US ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton as an adviser on tackling gang culture in the UK.
Friction between the police and Government mounted last night as Sir Hugh, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, dismissed Mr Bratton's relevance.
The former PSNI Chief Constable, considered one of the front-runners for the vacant Met Commissioner’s job, suggested Mr Bratton’s experience in the US may not translate to the UK.
“I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them. 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 levels of violence, they are so fundamentally different from here,” he told the Independent on Sunday.
“What I suggested to the Home Secretary is a more sensible approach, maybe to look across far wider styles of policing; and, more usefully, at European styles — they, like us, are bound by the European Convention. 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.”
Metropolitan Police Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin also complained, saying there were “inconsistencies” from Parliament over tactics.
Ms May said individual officers had done an “amazing job” in policing the streets during the rioting and that the country owed them an “enormous debt”.
But she added: “The police and the politicians have different jobs to do here. The police have their operational independence, that's absolutely right.
“But the minister's job is both to ensure that the police know they have support when they get tough and also, it is my job as Home Secretary, to ensure that the police know what the public want them to do.
“It was clear the public wanted them to get tough. They did that, they changed their tactics and we saw it had an impact.”
She said Mr Bratton “has experience and I want to listen to that experience” but added that she also wanted to draw on expert advice from around the world.
Ms May said she would chair a meeting of the Government's emergency committee, Cobra, today to decide how to proceed.
Tensions with police were raised when Mr Cameron told MPs that “far too few” officers were deployed at first and the police tactics “weren't working”.
He announced a surge of 16,000 officers to the streets of the capital and said police conceded they made mistakes in treated the violence as public disorder not criminal acts. Ms May said she and Mr Cameron had driven the change in tactics. Defending budget cuts totalling around 20% in real terms over four years which are predicted to mean the loss of 16,000 officers, she said: “We are continuing with our proposals. It is possible to make cuts in police budgets without affecting their ability to do the job the public want them to do and ensuring the police can still provide frontline services.”
Meanwhile, London's judiciary was stretched to breaking point yesterday as two magistrates courts took the unprecedented step of sitting on a Sunday in a desperate bid to make headway against the mounting backlog of cases.
The Met has so far made 1,414 arrests in connection with the violence, and has charged 810 people.
Brian Rowan: Sir Hugh Orde knows reality of street disturbances
Sir Hugh Orde says what he thinks, and, if he thinks it is right, will say it without worrying about who it might annoy — even if that annoyance goes all the way to Downing Street and David Cameron.
In the political knee-jerk of the past week, and in all of the talk about plastic bullets, water cannon and the Army, Orde has been sure-footed. More than any politician, and more than any other senior police officer in the UK, he knows the reality of these things.
They are not toys to be played with, not things to be used to make people and politicians feel better.
We know from experience here that plastic bullets and soldiers are not the things you use to build bridges, to build better police/community relations.
These tactics push you further away from the people.
They make enemy relationships, not better relationships. They are last resort and not first thought. And they are decisions for the police, not politicians.
It is no surprise that Orde in his role as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said what he thinks needs to be said about the adviser role now offered to American ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton.
What would David Cameron think if someone suggested he needed that same kind of high-profile consultant from elsewhere to tell him how to do politics and Government?
This was always going to play badly with police and Orde is saying what many others are thinking, saying it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.
The former PSNI Chief Constable has been in these battles before at that interface where policing and politics meets, but can’t always agree.
He is not afraid of the difficult conversations and only a few weeks ago was back in Northern Ireland in a room with all the main players — republican, loyalist, police and many others — discussing and debating the vexed question of the past.
It would have been easier for him to say no but he is not one for avoiding the difficult issues.
So, how will all of this play in terms of his chances of being the next Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police?
Well, it will tell those in politics what they are getting if he was to apply and to be successful; tell them that he will protect the operational independence of policing, and make clear to them that he is not afraid to tell politicians at all levels what he thinks.
Orde will not say what he thinks people would want him to say. He will say what he believes in.