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Cameron: UK will seek anti-gang ideas from US

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday that Britain would look to the United States for solutions to gang violence after nights of riots and looting, and promised authorities would get strong powers to stop street mayhem erupting again.

Cameron told lawmakers he was “are acting decisively to restore order on our streets,” as police raided houses to round up suspects from four nights of unrest in London and other English cities.

Steve Kavanagh, the deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, admitted the force initially did not deploy enough officers to control the outbreak of violence, saying “it is clear we did not have enough numbers on duty to deal.”

Cameron also acknowledged police had been overwhelmed by mobile groups of looters in the first nights of the rioting and said authorities were considering new powers, including allowing police to order thugs to remove masks or hoods, evicting troublemakers from subsidized housing and temporarily disabling cell phone instant messaging services.

He said the 16,000 police deployed on London’s streets to deter rioters and reassure residents would remain through the weekend.

“We will not let a violent few beat us,” Cameron said.

Lawmakers were summoned back from their summer vacations for an emergency session of Parliament on the riots as government and police worked to regain control, both on the streets and in the court of public opinion. Calm prevailed in London overnight, with a highly visible police presence watching over the capital, but a sense of nervousness lingered across the country.

During a session lasting almost three hours in which he faced 160 questions from lawmakers, Cameron promised tough measures to stop further violence and said “nothing should be off the table.” He said that included water cannon and plastic bullets — though senior police have said they don’t feel the need to use those at the moment. He also said officials would look at “whether there are tasks that the army could undertake that would free up more police for the front line.”

Cameron said he would seek American advice on fighting the street gangs he blamed for helping spark Britain’s riots.

He told lawmakers that he would look to cities like Boston for inspiration, and mentioned former Los Angeles, New York and Boston Police Chief William Bratton as a person who could help offer advice.

Bratton said in a statement he’d be “pleased and honored” to provide services and counsel in any capacity, adding he loves London and has worked with British police for nearly 20 years.

Cameron told lawmakers he wanted to look at cities that had fought gangs “by engaging the police, the voluntary sector and local government.”

“I also believe we should be looking beyond our shores to learn the lessons from others who have faced similar problems,” Cameron said.

He said the government, police and intelligence services were looking at whether there should be limits on the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or services like BlackBerry Messenger to spread disorder.

BlackBerry’s simple and largely cost free messaging service was used by rioters to coordinate their activities, Cameron’s office said.

Britain’s Home Office said it planned to hold talks with police chiefs, Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion Ltd.

Facebook looks forward to meeting with the home secretary, the company said in a statement, adding it has taken steps in recent days to ensure that any credible threats of violence are removed from the social networking site.

Government officials said they were discussing with spy agencies and communications companies whether messaging services could be disabled in specific areas, or at specific times.

Authorities are considering “whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality,” Cameron said.

Cameron said that, in the future, police would be able to order people to remove masks, hoods or other face coverings when they suspect them of concealing their identity to carry out a crime. Currently, police must seek approval from a senior officer.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles confirmed that powers that allow authorities to evict convicted criminals from government-subsidized housing will be strengthened. Authorities have the power to eject someone from social housing if they commit a crime, but only if the offense is in their own neighborhood.

Pickles said he hoped the power would be more widely used, and it would apply to crime committed anywhere.

A program that can ban gang members from meeting together, loitering in certain places, or displaying gang insignia will also be extended, he said.

Some lawmakers urged Cameron to take even tougher measures. Conservative Party lawmaker Peter Tapsell said he recalled law enforcement officers in Washington, D.C. in 1971 rounding up anti-Vietnam war demonstrators and imprisoning them in a sports stadium. Tapsell asked Cameron if London’s Wembley Stadium, the country’s showpiece soccer arena, could be used. Cameron insisted the stadium would be used only for “great sporting events.”

Parliamentary authorities confirmed Thursday a petition calling for those convicted of offenses during the riots to lose welfare payments could be debated by lawmakers. Earlier this month, Britain began an initiative under which online petitions which collected at least 100,000 signatures will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

Authorities said the petition crossed the threshold on Thursday — the first to do so — and would now be studied by a committee which decides on Parliament’s business.

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