Exclusive: PM's plan to import US adviser angers police chiefs

Tensions between senior officers and No 10 stoked as Orde mocks Cameron's invite to 'Supercop' to bring American-style policing to streets of Britain

The front-runner for Britain's top police job has ridiculed David Cameron's decision to take on an American "Supercop" as an adviser on policing and gangs in the wake of the riots.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, openly questioned the Prime Minister's appointment of Bill Bratton, former police chief in New York and Los Angeles, to examine the policing issues raised by the mass disturbances. In a dramatic escalation of the tensions between senior police officers and Downing Street, Sir Hugh also hit back at the "totally unjustified ... negative attacks" on policing.

Senior police officers are furious at the political criticism of their handling of the disturbances, which broke out in Tottenham last Saturday and spread to several English towns and cities by Tuesday.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Sir Hugh issued his third rebuke in a week to Mr Cameron, suggesting that his handling of the crisis has been less than sure-footed. Sir Hugh said: "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 their levels of violence, they are so fundamentally different from here.

"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."

Sir Hugh, a former Northern Ireland chief constable, is seen as ahead in the race for the job of Metropolitan Police Commissioner after Sir Paul Stephenson quit over the phone-hacking scandal last month. Mr Cameron is said to prefer the Thames Valley chief constable, Sara Thornton. Sir Hugh's latest remarks make the PM's ability to impose his chosen candidate more difficult because it could look like political revenge.

Mr Bratton cannot apply for the job because he is not British – but sources at No 10 held out the prospect that he could be a longer-term candidate. Mr Cameron spoke to Mr Bratton on Friday evening about working in an unpaid capacity on the "issues" surrounding the riots. In a sign of the PM's new get-tough strategy, he last night vowed a "zero tolerance" approach to street crime, first popularised in the US. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the PM said: "We haven't talked the language of zero tolerance enough, but the message is getting through." He claimed Britain has around 100,000 "deeply broken and troubled" families and promised action to "strengthen families". Ministers vowed to make life "hell" for gangs.

However, Mr Bratton's appointment was criticised by police rank and file. Ian Hanson, chairman of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, cautioned against listening to "someone who lives 5,000 miles away".

Tensions between politicians and the police rose as the week progressed, with Mr Cameron claiming they had failed to deploy enough officers to tackle the early riots.

This weekend, Tim Godwin, the Metropolitan Police's Acting Commissioner, told Sunday newspapers the police were "hurt" by claims they failed to do enough. "No orders were ever given to hold back," he said. "The scale and spread of the violence and criminal behaviour was far greater than anyone could have imagined."

Mr Godwin also said "inconsistent" messages from Parliament made police unsure of how to behave in public order situations. A ComRes opinion poll for The IoS today shows fewer than 30 per cent of people believe Mr Cameron and the Government have handled the response to the riots well. Sixty-one per cent said ministers "failed to return to their desks quickly enough". On Thursday, Sir Hugh told Newsnight Mr Cameron's return from his Tuscany holiday was an "irrelevance" to changing tactics.

The majority of those polled backed the use of tear gas (82 per cent), rubber bullets (75 per cent) and curfews (73 per cent) to break up riots in the future. Two-thirds supported bringing the army in to support the police, a plan opposed by Mr Godwin.

Seventy per cent of those questioned said plans to cut the police service in London by 20 per cent, should be reversed. Boris Johnson last night warned against the cuts: "The key lesson is that police numbers have got to be kept high.... In the current circumstances, going into the Olympics, with London's population growing, we must keep policing at the appropriate level, which means 32,500 officers." The London Mayor also told the Mail on Sunday rioters should be treated as "lepers".

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, repeated his warning that if the Government did not set up a full inquiry, he would. In an apparent attempt to blunt the Opposition's attack, Nick Clegg announced that the Government has commissioned "independent research" into the riots, including "what kind of people the rioters were, and why they did it" and why some areas "exploded" but others did not. In a speech to Lib Dems, the Deputy PM hit out at a "smash and grab culture". "Too often, it looks as if people who break the rules can prosper," he said. "Tax evaders, benefit cheats; bankers who break the bank but feather their own nests; MPs who rob from the public purse." Mr Clegg denied any rift between government and police. "Nobody is sitting there as an armchair general trying to second-guess tactical decisions."

Ministers and the police received praise from Barack Obama over their handling of the riots. The US President hoped the situation would "continue to remain calm", No 10 said. ComRes surveyed 2,008 adults online between 10 and 11 August 2011.

Full details at www.comres.co.uk

The hero of zero

Bill Bratton, is the tough-talking US police chief, charged with becoming David Cameron's new crime adviser. A Vietnam War veteran, Bratton quickly rose through the ranks of the police department in his native Boston, becoming the youngest-ever executive superintendent at the age of 32.

In 1994, he was appointed by then New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, as NYPD Police Commissioner and was credited with implementing the "broken window theory". The strategy hinges on the premise that if you keep towns and cities in good order, there is less inspiration for vandalism. "Broken windows" was heralded as a success, with crime figures sliding. But Bratton was forced to resign two years later after being investigated for a book deal he signed while in office and for accepting unauthorised trips from various organisations.

Bratton then became Los Angeles police chief in 2002 and was praised for reducing crime there for six straight years. He was criticised during his tenure for his extensive travel, taking a full third of a year "out of town" in 2005 for official and personal business. In 2009, he moved back to New York as chairman of Kroll, one of the businesses run by the private security firm Altegrity Risk International.

Paul Bignell

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