LONDON, Aug 15 – British Prime Minister David Cameron was on Monday to confront the “moral collapse” he blames for last week’s riots after fuelling a row with police over plans for a US “supercop” to help tackle street gang violence.
Police chiefs criticised Cameron’s decision to hire ex-New York police supremo Bill Bratton in a bid to prevent a repeat of the violence in which five people died, saying a home-grown policy would be better.
“We haven’t talked the language of zero tolerance enough, but the message is getting through,” Cameron told The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
A four-day frenzy of looting and arson in London and other major English cities has sparked a nationwide debate on the causes and possible responses, with just a year to go until the capital hosts the 2012 Olympics.
The prime minister was to promise in a speech to be delivered on Monday that he “would not be found wanting” in his mission to “mend our broken society”.
“This has been a wake-up call for our country,” Cameron was to declare.
“We know what’s gone wrong: the question is… do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?” he was to ask.
The Conservative party leader, a transcript of whose remarks was released in advance, was to blame “irresponsibility, selfishness, children without fathers, schools without discipline, reward without effort and rights without responsibilities” for the unprecedented disorder.
Interior minister Theresa May backed Cameron, saying the public wanted “tough action”.
Bratton himself, however, said zero tolerance is “a phrase I hate”.
“I would not advocate attempting zero tolerance in any country. It’s not achievable. It implies you can eliminate a problem and that’s not reality,” Bratton wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Instead the police expert, who is credited for tackling gang violence in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, listed a raft of measures including understanding how gangs work and using injunctions to curb their activities.
Britain’s top policemen – already angered by government plans to cut their budgets amid wider austerity measures and by Cameron accusing them of being slow to react to the riots – were in no mood for lectures.
“I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them,” Hugh Orde, the head of the British police chiefs’ body, told The Independent on Sunday newspaper.
Acting Metropolitan Police chief Tim Godwin also weighed in, accusing the government of “inconsistency” over how tough the police were expected to be following allegations of heavy-handedness in the G20 protests in 2009.
He said commanders would decide on Monday whether to scale down the surge of officers on London’s streets, currently at 16,000.
More than 2,140 people have now been arrested in connection with the riots, and around 1,000 have been charged.
The first people to be charged over some of the deaths in the riots appeared in court on Sunday.
Joshua Donald, 26, and a 17-year-old boy who cannot be named, appeared at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court charged with the murder of three men hit by a car while defending their neighbourhood against looters in Britain’s second city.
Adam King, 23, was also charged over the incident later Sunday.
More than 1,500 people observed a minute’s silence at a peace rally in Birmingham in Britain’s industrial midlands Sunday, police said.
Addressing the rally, Tariq Jahan, father of victim Haroon Jahan, said that the display of unity gave him “strength in my heart”.
Jahan, 46, emerged as a hero after calling for calm in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, preventing revenge attacks.
“To me it’s the month of Ramadan, as a Muslim I believe that this is a very special month,” he said.
“For us Muslims we believe the gates of heaven are open and the gates of hell are shut this month, so that gives me the strength to believe that the three boys did not die in vain, they died for this community and I hope that this community will remember them,” added the bereaved father.
A 16-year-old boy was also arrested on Sunday on suspicion of the murder of Richard Bowes, 68, who was attacked as he tried to put out a fire in the West London borough of Ealing.