Cameron defends 'zero tolerance' policy

British prime minister reaffirms commitment to anti-crime policy, as police chiefs criticise appointment of new adviser.

    Scores gathered on Sunday for a peace rally in Birmingham to honour three men killed during the riots [AFP]

    David Cameron, the British prime minister, has reiterated that his government will take a "zero tolerance" approach to cracking down on rioters, even as British police chiefs criticised his decision to hire a former US police chief to help organise a response to last week's violence.

    "We haven't talked the language of zero tolerance enough, but the message is getting through," Cameron told The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

    Four days of rioting, looting and arson in London, the British capital, and other cities left several people dead and sparked a nationwide debate on the causes and possible responses to the violence.

    Cameron rejected the argument that underlying social factors played a major role in fuelling public resentment and thus prolonged the riots. He said such an approach was over-complicated, though he did concede that certain social issues, including "deeply broken and troubled families", did need to be addressed.

    Theresa May, the UK interior minister, backed Cameron, saying that the public wanted "tough action".

    'Not achievable'

    William Bratton, the man credited with reducing street crime during his stints as police chief in the US cities of New York, Los Angeles and Boston, said, however, that "zero tolerance" was a "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.

    Bratton listed a slew of measures, including understanding how groups of rioters worked and using injunctions to curb their activities.

    Hugh Orde, the head of the British police chief's body, however, reacted angrily to the hiring of Bratton as an adviser.

    "I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them," Orde told The Independent on Sunday newspaper.

    The UK's policemen have already expressed dissatisfaction with government plans to cut their budgets amid wider austerity measures. Cameron had early accused British police of being too slow in their reaction to the riots.

    Tim Godwin, the acting Metropolitan Police chief, 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.

    Godwin said that police commanders would decide on Monday whether or not to reduce the number of police officers on London's streets, which currently stands at 16,000.

    Peace rally held

    More than 2,140 people have now been arrested in connection with the riots, of whom around 1,000 have been charged.

    The first suspects to be charged over deaths related to the riots appeared in court on Sunday.

    Joshua Donald, 26, and a 17-year-old male who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared before a Birmingham Magistrates' Court after being charged with the murder of three men who were hit by a car while defending their neighbourhood.

    Scores of people observed a minute's silence at a peace rally in Birmingham later on Sunday, where Tariq Jahan, the father of one of the victims, told the assembled crowd that the three men had "died for the community".

    Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, suffered fatal injuries after being hit by a car in the early hours of Wednesday in the Winson Green area of the central England city.

    Chris Sims, the West Midlands police chief, said he had been invited to address the meeting. He said that the invitation showed that policing was being seen as "part of the solution not part of the problem" in the area.

    He added that it "feels a million miles from the debates apparently raging in Westminster".

    "I'm absolutely confident that my officers have shown great bravery," he told the assembled crowd. "We will bring to justice people that have broken the law and we will use some compassion for those that deserve compassion as well."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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