- Associated Press - Sunday, August 14, 2011

LONDON — Tensions between Britain’s government and police leaders flared Saturday over Prime Minister David Cameron’s recruitment of a veteran U.S. police commander to advise him on how to combat gangs and prevent a repeat of the past week’s riots.

The criticism, led by Association of Chief Police Officers leader Sir Hugh Orde, underscored deep tensions between police and Mr. Cameron’s coalition government over who is most to blame for the failure to stop the four-day rioting that raged in parts of London and other English cities until Wednesday.

Mr. Cameron criticized police tactics as too timid and announced he would seek policy guidance from William Bratton, former commander of police forces in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. British police have branded the move as misguided and an insult to their professionalism.

“I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them,” Mr. Orde said of Los Angeles, which the 63-year-old Mr. Bratton oversaw until 2009.

“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 fundamentally different from here,” said Mr. Orde, a former commander of Northern Ireland’s police and deputy commander of London’s Metropolitan Police.

Mr. Orde made his comments to the Independent on Sunday newspaper.

The riots row overshadowed a day of peace on England’s streets and continued progress in processing more than 2,100 riot suspects arrested so far, mostly in London, in unprecedented around-the-clock court sessions.

England’s forces of law and order have been on the defensive over their slow initial response to riots that rapidly spread Aug. 6 from the north London district of Tottenham to several London flash points and, eventually, to Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and other cities with high gang activity.

Meanwhile, results of an opinion poll published Sunday suggested stronger public support for the police than for Mr. Cameron’s approach to the crisis.

The poll, commissioned jointly by British newspapers the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday, found that 61 percent thought Mr. Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues were too slow to end their foreign summer holidays after last weekend’s outbreak of violence. Mr. Cameron returned to London from his break in Italy’s Tuscany region Tuesday, after almost all of the London rioting had passed.

And strong majorities backed greater support and resources for the police, calling for planned budget cuts to be put on hold.

About 65 percent said British troops should be used to reinforce police in event of future riots, while even larger majorities said police should be permitted to use water cannons and plastic bullets against rioters and impose curfews on unruly communities. All of those measures have been used to control street violence in the British territory of Northern Ireland but never in Britain itself.

The survey of 2,008 people, conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, had an error margin of 3 percentage points.

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