Home Secretary Jacqui Smith came face to face with angry police officers as she defended the Government’s decision to offer a 1.9 per cent pay rise.
Delegates at the Police Federation’s conference on Wednesday listened in stony silence as Ms Smith, the MP for Redditch, said it was essential to limit pay increases to keep inflation down.
Earlier, Ms Smith heard Police Federation chairman Jan Berry accuse her of "betraying" the police service.
The row follows the Government’s decision to reject an independent arbitration panel recommendation that police should receive a 2.5 per cent pay rise.
Instead, Ministers announced that the increase would be introduced in stages, effectively reducing it to 1.9.
The Home Secretary looked uncomfortable as she faced 1,000 delegates, at first smiling at the comments but her expression soon becoming rigid.
Mrs Berry praised the politician for facing the conference, but mocked her admission that she once smoked cannabis in her youth.
She said "I am sure... you felt like reaching for a stab-proof vest and perhaps slipping into old habits and lighting up to calm your nerves.
"But, as you have reassured us, you have moved on from these past indiscretions."
Mrs Berry went on: "Your decision not to honour the pay award was a breach of faith.
"It was a monumental mistake, and I don’t say this lightly when I say you betrayed the police service.
"How was it that the Government found £2.7 billion to dig itself out of a tax hole in advance of a by-election but couldn’t find £30 million to honour our pay deal?"
Speaking about the pay row, Ms Smith said she stood by her decision despite the anger it caused.
She told delegates: "I know you strongly disagree with the decision. But it was one that I took only after a lot of thought - after considering the full facts of the case, the need to keep mortgages and the cost of living under control - and that includes your mortgages and your families’ cost of living as well.
"There was another crucial factor at play - affordability, and for that read police officer numbers.
"I needed to ensure that you continued to have your colleagues working alongside you. All your colleagues.
"At a time when families are feeling the pinch, I know how important it is to restore stability and confidence into discussions on your pay."
Ms Smith said any long-term deal agreed on an index created by the arbitration tribunal would be fully implemented.
She added: "But let’s be under no illusions. Setting out on the road to strike will lead only to a dead end."
The Home Secretary’s appearance in Bournemouth came the day after officers voted to lobby for the same rights as other workers, including the right to strike.
Police last went on strike in 1918 and 1919 in Liverpool and London, leading to the Government banning officers from taking industrial action or belonging to a trade union.
Ms Smith also announced a series of reforms and initiatives designed to support police officers.
She told delegates that retirement lump sum payments would be recalculated at a cost of £100 million to the Treasury, significantly increasing the amount for many officers.
And she said partners of those killed in service should continue to receive their full pension regardless of whether they remarry.
Ms Smith also said an oversubscribed £50 million fund for handheld computers would be extended.
She said that if trials of electric stun guns showed they protected police and the public they would be "issued routinely" to all officers.
The Government would scrap stop and account forms, reduce data it collected by a third, and simplify custody, bail and premises entry procedures, she added.
Ms Smith also announced that a "senior figure" would be appointed to oversee how Government policy changes impacted on frontline officers.