Priti Patel has said she wants criminals to “feel terror” at the thought of offending, as she distanced herself from her comments in support of the death penalty.
In her first interview as Home Secretary, she pledged to get a grip on violent crime after Boris Johnson committed to recruiting 20,000 more police officers.
“I’ve always felt the Conservative Party is the party of the police and police officers,” she told the Daily Mail.
“Quite frankly, with more police officers out there and greater police presence, I want (criminals) to literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences.”
Ms Patel previously said in 2006 she was in favour of the “ultimate punishment” for the worst of crimes, and supported the death penalty during a Question Time debate on the subject in 2011.
Asked about the death penalty, she told the Mail: “I have never said I’m an active supporter of it and (what I said) is constantly taken out of context.”
Her comments on the BBC show were: “I do actually think when we have a criminal justice system that continuously fails in this country and where we have seen murderers, rapists and people who have committed the most abhorrent crimes in society, go into prison and then are released from prison to go out into the community to then re-offend and do the types of crime they have committed again and again.
“I think that’s appalling. And actually on that basis alone I would actually support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said that “tough rhetoric” will not end “soaring crime”.
“We need more officers and resources for the police to work with our communities, not to risk alienating them with draconian powers,” the Labour MP added.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Ed Davey called Witham MP Ms Patel “out of touch” for her policing comments.
“Priti Patel’s notion that making people terrified of the police will cut crime shows just how out of touch she is with what’s leading some young people into crime in the first place,” the MP said.
“So often young people say they carry knives because they are afraid of other young people in gangs. We need more police so these young people can feel less afraid as they now trust the police to be there, not because the police add to their fears.”
Also in the interview, Ms Patel voiced a tough stance on drugs, saying cannabis users should not be overlooked by police.
“Any form of drug use,” she said. “You don’t turn a blind eye to it at all. It has a corrosive impact on people and communities.”
The Lib Dems accused Ms Patel of “rank hypocrisy” over the zero-tolerance approach, considering the series of admissions from senior Tory colleagues.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promoted Mr Gove to the Cabinet after he was forced to admit using cocaine 20 years ago during social events.
Dominic Raab was made Foreign Secretary and Andrea Leadsom Business Secretary after saying they had used cannabis as students.
Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine, who has worked for access to medicinal cannabis, called for a “pragmatic, evidence-based approach” to drugs.
“It’s rank hypocrisy for the Home Secretary to take such an archaic approach on cannabis given the recent admissions from members of the Cabinet she sits around,” she said.
“The war on drugs has been an unmitigated failure. In reality, by decriminalising cannabis we can remove it from the criminal market and protect vulnerable young people.”
Ms Patel was one of the greatest beneficiaries of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle after he became Prime Minister.
She was elevated from the backbenches having been sacked as Secretary of State for International Development by Theresa May in 2017 for holding secret meetings with members of the Israeli government.