Shooting 'would inflame violence'
The prospect of armed officers opening fire on arsonists during riots only risks inflaming violence, campaigners have warned.
An official review of police tactics found officers could shoot arsonists as a last resort if they endanger life by attacking businesses attached to people's homes.
Sir Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, called for a public debate on how much force officers should use to quell disorder similar to that which swept through English cities in August. Plastic bullets and water cannon may also be considered in the future, he said.
Sir Denis said: "Police have to be able to defend civil order but they need support from the public and others when they do that."
Half of people surveyed for the review thought police did not use enough force during the riots, while a third thought firearms should have been used against the rioters. A quarter of the 2,000 members of the public surveyed between September 16 and 18 thought police were already using water cannon.
Sir Denis added: "If we don't raise some of these awkward issues, then we're not giving people the chance to prepare for a future where we're slightly more assured as to what will happen. Some new rules of engagement are necessary so the police can protect the public in confidence."
There has been a "long period of peace" where civil order was not top of the agenda, but now it needs to be given priority again, Sir Denis said. "The balance of risk has changed. We have to have the means with some certainty to protect the public."
The best option was to get officers on the streets as soon as possible, but the question was what should be done to protect the public while waiting for high numbers of officers to get to the scene, he said.
But Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: "How on earth would bullets have quelled and not inflamed this summer's riots? Didn't the widespread disorder all begin in Tottenham with a fatal police shooting?"
Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, added: "Endorsing the use of live ammunition is an approval of the tactics of war on London's streets and implementing such recommendations would be madness."