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Study: British police say expect more riots

Kerim Okten / EPA, file

Police officers detain suspected rioters in Enfield, North London, Britain, on August 9, 2011.

LONDON -- British police expect another outburst of rioting in London -- possibly even this summer as the country prepares to host the Olympic Games -- as economic hardship pushes more people towards social unrest, a study found on Monday.

Thousands of angry young people rioted through the streets of London and other big cities last August, looting shops and burning buildings, prompting pledges from government to crack down on crime.

The joint study by Britain's left-leaning Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics was based on interviews with 130 officers caught up in the riots.

It found that the police expect more trouble but feel their ability to respond could be weakened by austerity measures. Last year a riot in north London, which started after a peaceful protest against the killing of a local man by police on August 4, triggered similar scenes across the country's capital and in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. 

Sad truth behind the London riot

"Police expect a repeat of the riots that spread across England last summer, and are concerned about whether they will have the resources to cope with future unrest on that scale," the study said.  "Officers said further disorder was likely, with many citing worsening social and economic conditions as the potential cause."

The government wants to make cuts of about 20 percent to police budgets. Like all public sector workers, officers also face pay freezes and higher pension contributions.

Meanwhile, security is under international scrutiny in London as it prepares to host the Olympic Games from July 27 when thousands of tourists and sports fans are expected to flock to Britain. 

No direct correlation? 
A former high-ranking member of London's Metropolitan police, the country's largest police force, cautioned against drawing a direct link between economic hardship and civil unrest.

Rioters in London torched vehicles and buildings and looted shops in response to the fatal shooting of a local man by police. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.

"It is accurate to say that police funding is coming under a lot of pressure," Bill Tillbrook, the former head of the specialist firearms unit at the Met told msnbc.com. "But it is not as simple as saying that if there are fewer police officers, there will be more riots." 

Nevertheless, the study showed many of those interviewed felt more riots were likely or even "imminent." In a response it described as typical, the study said one superintendent from Manchester police said he expected more disorder "within the year." 

"I think if you have bad economic times, hot weather, some sort of an event that sets it off ... my answer is: yes, it could," he told the study. 

"Because I don't think anything has changed between now and last August, and the only thing that's different is people have thought: riots are fun." 

Photos: Riots break out in UK

Police were accused at the time of being too slow and ill-prepared in their response but many officers now feel budget cuts could only weaken their ability to deal with another wave of unrest, the study said. 

The vice chairman of the country's largest association of police officer agreed with many of the study's conclusions. 

"Clearly we are in an austerity program.  We are losing 20 percent of our budget over four years," Simon Reed told msnbc.com.  "And the since disorder have lost 5,000 officers."

Indeed, more painful measures are expected as the coalition government makes cuts to plug the budget deficit. Public sector borrowing is due to fall from about 128 billion pounds ($200 billion) last year to 98 billion in 2013/14. 

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The economy fell back into recession around the turn of the year and while overall unemployment has fallen in recent months, the rate of joblessness among those aged 18-24 remains as high as 19.9 percent. 

The HMIC independent police watchdog, in a report on Monday, said police forces planned to cut six percent -- 5,800 fewer officers --  of frontline roles as a result of spending cuts. 

"In addition, plugging the outstanding 302-million-pound funding gap might require a further reduction of officer numbers," it said. 

Msnbc.com's F. Brinley Bruton and Reuters contributed to this report. 

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