Lord Stevens launches independent commission on future of policing with warning that officers face rising disorder on streets
Britain faces years of public disorder fuelled by the economic crisis, with police battling to keep control of the streets, a former Scotland Yard chief has warned.
Lord Stevens made his warning at the launch of an independent commission into the future of policing, which has been set up by Labour as it tries to outflank the government on law and order.
Labour says the Tory-led government rebuffed its calls for a royal commission into policing, so it effectively set up its own.
Stevens, the last commissioner of the Metropolitan police to complete his term in office, warned the government not to be "insulting" or "arrogant" in dismissing the work of the panel of academics and former police chiefs that he will chair.
Stevens said the way that outbreaks of public disorder are policed will be a key issue.
"My gut feeling is it's going to be a very difficult 18 months to three years," he said. "One of the main issues will be public order, or rather public disorder, and we will be looking at that in some detail."
Stevens warned of continuing disquiet on the streets, saying there were already "signs of increasing crime'' and that "the police will have to be match-fit on this issue".
Stevens said the police response to this summer's riots led them to lose control of the streets. He added that the first riot in Tottenham, north London, after a police shooting, should have been anticipated. During the summer riots police had been "acting a day behind'' events, he added.
Stevens said it "rang alarm bells" that stop and search was an issue, and police must be better at explaining to communities what they are doing and be better at listening to their concerns.
Some of the concerns raised by Stevens echoed the findings of the Guardian/LSE's Reading the Riots study, which has revealed that a key factor in the August riots was discontent with the police ? with stop and search one of the most hated aspects.
Stevens's warnings carry weight not just because of his tenure as Britain's top officer, but because he has been courted by and advised both Labour and the Conservatives.
Paul McKeever, chair of the Police Federation, said: "We welcome the independent commission ? it's going some way to what we've been calling for for years, to look at things in a holistic way, rather than in a piecemeal way, as the government has done.''
But policing minister Nick Herbert has said Labour's decision to set up an inquiry was "an abdication of any kind of political leadership".
He added it was wrong for Labour to be "subcontracting decisions on police reform ? reform which they espoused in government and are now opportunistically opposing ? to a committee".
The inquiry that Stevens will chair, which will report by 2013, is the first in five decades to promise a root-and-branch examination. It comes as police face large cuts, with rank-and-file officers saying cuts to their pay and conditions have hit morale.
The government says it can protect frontline policing and that police forces, which grew under Labour, can cut crime for less money.
But the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: "My fear is that policing in Britain now faces a perfect storm. The scale of the cuts, the chaos of confused reforms, escalating demands and declining morale.''
She added: "I am now worried about the future for policing and the risk of a growing gap between public concerns and the capacity of the police to deliver."