Speaking to the House of Commons during the emergency recall of Parliament yesterday, Cameron praised the police for the “incredible bravery” shown during the riots, but said police chiefs had admitted to him they had been too slow to respond during the violence, having initially treated the situation as a “public order issue” - rather than one of crime.
“There were simply far too few police deployed on to our streets,” Cameron told MPs. “And the tactics they were using weren’t working.”
The Prime Minister admitted that police had come close to using baton rounds – commonly known as plastic bullets – during the clashes in London.
He also said that police had now been granted extra powers to remove facial coverings such as scarves from suspects if there was suspicion they were involved in criminal activity.
Officers on duty have already been given permission to use water cannons and plastic bullets, but home secretary Theresa May told the Commons that police made it clear to her they did not want to use such measures.
Cameron also said he was working with security experts to see “if it would be right” for social networking sites such as Blackberry Messenger and Twitter to be blocked or disrupted during civil unrest.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband was quick to bring planned police cuts into the debate, after the Mayor of London Boris Johnson called yesterday for the government’s programme of budget cuts for the force to be abandoned.
Downing Street has insisted that the plans – which will reduce police funding by 15 per cent over the next two years – are manageable and will not hit frontline services.
The Metropolitan Police said yesterday they had now arrested more than 1,000 people in connection with the riots, of whom 464 had been charged with offences such as burglary, trespassing and violent disorder.
London’s streets were again patrolled by extra officers last night, and an increased workforce of 16,000 will remain on duty over the weekend, compared to the usual 3,500.