Detective Superintendent David Edwards of Avon and Somerset Police said that Cooke, 71, was well aware of the public's hatred of him. But Det Supt Edwards gave an assurance that the public would be protected, and said he was prepared to act if Cooke ever decided to leave secure accommodation.
"He certainly does not want to face the public. He is very well aware of the public reaction to him ... and is in some fear of that," Det Supt Edwards told a BBC1 Panorama programme last night.
Cooke, who was released on 6 April after serving nine years for the manslaughter of runaway Jason Swift, 14, is free to walk out of his secure accommodation in the Avon and Somerset area at any time. But Mr Edwards said: "If Mr Cooke does walk out of the police station we will react accordingly ... In practice he has nowhere else to go."
But he also insisted efforts should be made to rehabilitate Cooke. "If a person serves their term of imprisonment then surely it is incumbent on society to make every attempt to rehabilitate this person ... and to absorb him into society," he said.
There was a near-riot in the Knowle West area of Bristol and a series of protests in the Somerset towns of Yeovil and Bridgwater after it emerged that Cooke was being kept in a police station in the Avon and Somerset area. The protests followed similar scenes in east London after he was kept by police in a secure building.
Lavinia Tildesley, the mother of seven-year-old Mark Tildesley, who disappeared from a fairground in Wokingham, Berkshire, in 1995, also appeared on the programme. She appealed to Cooke, who was named in court as being involved in her son's killing but was never charged, to tell her where the body is buried.
She said: "It's a long time gone, but if he'd just tell us, we'd know, and we can start living our life again."