Julie Spence, Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, said her officers were already struggling to cope with the consequences of migration and warned that if the economic downturn continued, it would heighten tensions in communities with large numbers of migrant workers.
Speaking at the Police Federation conference in Bournemouth on Wednesday, Mrs Spence said: “We do wonder what is going to happen as the credit crunch starts to bite. We have already seen [claims that] ‘people are taking our jobs’.
“What does the future hold? We have to be very alive and alert to that as police officers if we want to live in cohesive communities.”
The police chief claimed that “poor” Government figures on migrant numbers could not be trusted.
Ministers had underestimated the number of Eastern Europeans in the UK by up to two thirds, she said, adding that her own research suggested there were as many as 1.4 million living in Britain.
According to official statistics published this week, 845,000 Eastern European migrants have applied for the Worker Registration Scheme.
Mrs Spence told delegates at the Bournemouth conference that reports that some migrants were returning home were wrong. She gave a series of examples of new problems faced by her officers as a result of the growing migrant population.
They included violence breaking out between people from Iraq and Pakistan following confrontations over young women. Mrs Spence, who is due to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee next month on the impact of migrants in Cambridgeshire, labelled the Migrant Impact Forum, the Government’s advisory body, as a “talking shop” and criticised ministers’ response to the issue.
She said: “They need to get their act together because there has been a rapid change and no real response from government apart from a pat on the head.”
Mrs Spence said in Peterborough alone, 93 cultures were now represented and 100 languages spoken.
She added: “There are foreign nationals in our cells every day of the week.”
The police chief called for a European-wide convictions database and gave the example of one man who was violent towards police after crashing his car in Cambridgeshire. They later discovered from Polish authorities that he had been convicted of murder in his homeland.