LONDON (Reuters) – Britain needs to tackle deep-seated social problems following riots and looting in English cities this week, the center-right government said on Saturday, and a U.S. street crime expert it has brought in said arrests alone would not solve the problem.
“There are communities that have just been left behind by the rest of the country. There are communities that are cut-off from the economic life-blood of the rest of the country,” Finance Minister George Osborne said.
Prime Minister David Cameron, criticized by some in his Conservative party as being too liberal on crime and punishment, has taken a hard line on rioting in statements this week after returning from his summer holiday and recalling parliament.
He has also come under attack for austerity measures his government is introducing to tackle a huge debt burden.
Osborne said the government intends to press on with deep cuts to police numbers. The Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said the riots weakened the case for those cuts.
The riots broke out a week ago after a demonstration against the police shooting of a suspect.
Cameron has said political and economic grievances had little to do with days of looting and violence in which five people were killed, calling it “criminality pure and simple” and saying gang violence lay at its heart.
He enlisted U.S. street crime expert William Bratton on Friday to advise the government on handling it.
Bratton, credited with curbing street crime as police chief in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, told Reuters on Friday he would offer advice based on his experience tackling gangs.
“You can’t arrest your way out of the problem,” he said on U.S. broadcaster ABC on Saturday. “Arrest is certainly appropriate for the most violent, the incorrigible, but so much of it can be addressed in other ways and it’s not just a police issue, it is in fact a societal issue.”
Cities were largely quiet on Friday and Saturday. British police flooded the streets again on Friday night to ensure weekend drinking does not reignite the rioting that shocked Britons and sullied the country’s image a year before it hosts the Olympic Games.
More than 1,200 people have been arrested in connection with violence disorder and looting and hundreds have been charged.
Osborne said lessons needed to be learned but throwing money at the problem was not the answer. “There are very deep-seated social problem which we need to tackle,” he told BBC radio.
A ComRes poll for The Independent newspaper showed 54 percent of Britons say Cameron failed to provide leadership early enough to control the riots, while an ICM survey for The Guardian showed that only 30 percent thought Cameron responded well to the riots and 44 percent thought the opposite.
Offenders include a millionaire’s daughter, a charity worker and a journalism student, but most are unemployed young men.
The scale and ferocity of the rioting, not only in inner-city areas but also in some middle-class suburbs, has generated a debate with starkly different views, with many people saying the police should have been tougher.
The ex-leader of one of London’s most feared street gangs said they were not the brainchild of gang leaders but, in many cases, the result of a build-up of frustration among young people growing up on grim housing estates with little hope.
“The fire’s there, secured in a room, locked away and then someone’s opened the door and it’s spread through the house,” Elijah Kerr, who transformed his gang into an organization helping young people, told Reuters in an interview.
(Additional reporting by Keith Weir in London and Ray Sanchez and Daniel Trotta in New York; Writing by Tim Pearce and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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