Demonstrators - Reuters - 14082011
Demonstrators seeking more support for youngsters living in grim and violent housing estates marching in northeast London Saturday. Photo by Reuters
Text size

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday was backing demands that those who participated in last week's riots be evicted from their heavily subsidized council housing. Meanwhile, a tough-talking former American police chief, who brought in to advise the government on fighting gangs, suggested the police needed to get more assertive with offenders.

All eyes were on the first possible riot-related eviction - the family of a young man from Battersea who had been caught looting a Curry's electronic shop, and his mother, a council house tenant. His mother was fighting the Wandsworth council to get to stay on. Her eviction would be a precedent.

"Let's make sure if people riot and break the law, they get thrown out of their council houses," Cameron stated clearly, on a visit to riot-hit Manchester. "For too long we've taken a too-soft attitude towards people that loot and pillage their own community ... If you do that, you should lose your right to the sort of housing that you've had at subsidized rates. That will mean they've got to be housed somewhere else. They'll have to find housing in the private sector, and that will be tougher for them. But they should have thought of that before they started burgling."

Meanwhile, former New York and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton, famed for his zero tolerance tactics and credited with cleaning up the two cities he took on, is reportedly in discussions with Cameron about taking charge of the Metropolitan Police. He is said to have advised the British police to get tough and advocated a doctrine of escalating force.

"In my experience, the younger criminal element don't fear the police and have been emboldened to challenge the police and effectively take them on," Bratton told the press. "What needs to be understood is that police are empowered to do certain things - to stop, to talk, to frisk on certain occasions, to arrest if necessary, to use force."

Bratton further advised the local police force to work more with community leaders and civil rights groups to calm racial tensions.

Whether or not Bratton does take on the top cop job - recently vacated by Sir Paul Stephenson, who resigned in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal - is unclear. According to the Guardian newspaper, his being an American citizen might disqualify him. In addition, the top British police brass might resent the appointment of an outsider. They bristled this week at suggestions from Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May that they had not been tough enough on the rioters. Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, shot back at Cameron and May, describing the role of the politicians as "an irrelevance." Orde pointed out that by Monday the police had decided to mobilize huge numbers of officers in London - long before Cameron and others returned from their summer holidays to the capital.

Faced with anger from all levels of the police, Cameron tried to beat a retreat, lavishly praising the force and calling Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner, on Friday to give his personal thanks and convey a message of admiration.

A Guardian poll showed that the public sided with the police - and not the politicians - over the handling of the riots. The poll conducted this past week shows that less than a third of voters think the prime minister or London Mayor Boris Johnson performed well.