LONDON — Tensions between Britain’s government and police leaders flared Saturday over Prime Minister David Cameron’s recruitment of a veteran American 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 Cameron’s coalition government over who was most to blame for the failure to stop the four-day rioting that raged in parts of London and other English cities until Wednesday.
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 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,” Orde said of Los Angeles, which the 63-year-old 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 Orde, a former commander of Northern Ireland’s police and deputy commander of London’s Metropolitan Police. 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 round-the-clock court sessions.
In England’s second-largest city of Birmingham, prosecutors charged two males with the murder of three men in a hit-and-run attack Wednesday, the deadliest event during the past week’s urban mayhem.
Both males — identified as Joshua Donald, 26, and a 17-year-old whose name was withheld because of his juvenile status — were being arraigned Sunday at Birmingham Magistrates Court on three counts each of murder.
The breakthrough by a team of 70 detectives came less than four days after Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, were mortally wounded when a car struck them at high speed. The trio had been part of a larger group standing guard in front of a row of Pakistani-owned shops.
The killings threatened to ignite clashes between the area’s South Asian and black gangs, but the father of Haroon Jahan made a series of impressively composed public statements in the hours after his son’s death pleading for forgiveness, racial harmony and no retaliation.
Hours before Saturday’s murder charges were announced, the father, Tariq Jahan, told journalists at a Birmingham news conference he had received thousands of letters from well-wishers worldwide.
“I would like to thank the community, especially the young people, for listening to what I have to say and staying calm,” said Jahan, 46, a delivery driver for an electronics chain.
Police in London were continuing to interrogate several suspects linked to the riots’ two other killings: of a 26-year-old man shot to death in a car after a high-speed chase involving a rival group of men, and a 68-year-old loner who was beaten to death after arguing with rioters and trying to extinguish a fire they had set.
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 flashpoints and, eventually, to Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and other cities with high gang activity.
But police leaders mounted a series of critical interviews Saturday underscoring their view that Cameron was jumping the gun by seeking foreign advice at a time when his debt-hit government was pressing ahead with plans to cut police budgets by 20 percent.
Leaders of the police unions in London and the northwest city of Manchester — which dealt relatively harshly with rioters and quelled trouble there in one night — stressed that Cameron needed to listen to their expertise first, rather than seek to apply lessons from America’s better-armed, more aggressive approach to policing.
“America polices by force. We don’t want to do that in this country,” said Paul Deller of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents more than 30,000 officers in the British capital.
Deller, a 25-year Met officer, accused the government of not being serious about following Bratton’s recipe for reducing crime.
“When Mr. Bratton was in New York and Los Angeles, the first thing he did was to increase the number of police on the street, whereas we’ve got a government that wants to do exactly the opposite,” he said, warning that planned budget cuts would mean 2,000 officers lose their jobs in London and thousands more nationwide.
Ian Hanson, chairman of the federation’s Manchester branch, said local officers knew better how to police their own communities than “someone who lives 5,000 miles away.”
Results of an opinion poll published Sunday suggested stronger public support for the police than for Cameron’s approach to the crisis.
The poll, commissioned jointly by British newspapers Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday, found that 61 percent thought Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues were too slow to end their foreign summer holidays following last weekend’s outbreak of violence. 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 heavier majorities said police should be permitted to use water cannon 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.