UK Politics

Lord Stevens: Police face months of public disorder

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Media captionLord Stevens: "We're going to be looking at a vast range of things in relation to policing"

Former Met Police Chief Lord Stevens has said he believes public disorder will be one of the major problems facing police over the next 18 months.

Launching a commission into policing in England and Wales set up by Labour - he said his feeling was that the coming months would be "very difficult".

He said he was worried about unemployment and rising crime - police would have to be "match fit" to cope.

Crossbencher Lord Stevens also stressed the commission would be non-political.

Labour announced the review at their 2011 party conference, saying it was time for a "serious vision".

'Radical thinking'

But Lord Stevens stressed that the review panel, which includes police figures from the UK and US, academics and judges, would be independent.

The crossbench peer, who has previously advised the Conservatives on border security and Gordon Brown on international security, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It has to be independent and I think the people who agreed to do this commission with me show that it will be... I can assure you, it will be."

He said: "It would be great if we could have some kind of cross-party agreement, not everything we say is going to be welcomed by the Labour Party and there will be some need for some radical thinking."

Launching the commission, Lord Stevens said: "My own belief is - and it's a very personal one - that (over) the next 18 months, two to three years, one of the main issues will be public order, or rather public disorder.

"I don't think anyone would disagree with that in terms of the challenges facing policing. We'll be looking at that in some detail," he said.

"My gut feeling and beyond is that it's going to be a very difficult 18 months, two years, but I hope to God I'm wrong."

Stop and search

He predicted "disquiet on the streets" and said he was really concerned about unemployment - particularly youth unemployment and "a sense of increasing crime": "The police have to be absolutely match fit to deal with these issues."

But he said they would have to work with communities - citing the example of former Brixton commander Brian Paddick who set up a "contract" with the local community there about the use of stop-and-search powers, which Lord Stevens said was a "massively important tool for the police".

As well as working with local communities, there had to be "hard-edged policing which doesn't allow people to get confidence like they did in the riots that took place recently where they actually think they can break the law, steal things and get away with it".

But asked if he expected trouble on the scale of the summer riots he said: "No, I hope not."

Labour has been critical of cuts to police budgets, which the police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary estimates could see police officer numbers in England and Wales fall by 16,200 over five years.

Launching the party's policing review, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Policing now faces a perfect storm from the scale of cuts, the chaos of confused reforms, the escalating demands on the service and declining morale.

"I'm worried in particular about the risk of a growing gap between public concern with the need for police action but also with the capacity of the police to deliver."

'No more money'

Lord Stevens told the BBC he expected his unpaid panel to report back within 15 months.

It would look into the role of the police in England and Wales, what is expected of them, how they are held to account and their relationship with the criminal justice system and "priorities and structures".

But he added: "Above all we've got to accept the fact that there's not going to be any more money and there's going to be a reduction in money."

It is almost 50 years since the last royal commission on the police, which introduced the system still broadly in force.

Ms Cooper has criticised the coalition government for refusing to hold a major commission or review of policing - Labour resisted calls for a royal commission when it was in power.

Policing Minister Nick Herbert argued that Labour's decision to establish an inquiry was "an abdication of any kind of political leadership" while the government had a "coherent package of reforms".

He told the BBC: "We should always listen to expert policing views. But the challenges facing police forces are urgent - we need to tackle serious organised crime, reduce the red tape that has bedevilled policing and make sure that forces live within their means."

Lord Stevens was the head of the Metropolitan Police between 2000 and 2005 and now sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords.

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