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Blair warns police chiefs over crime

LABOUR is pushing ahead with a controversial policy of "zero-tolerance" policing despite strong reservations among chief constables, a leaked internal party document reveals.

The paper, drawn up by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and approved by the Prime Minister, asks what level of support and resources should be devoted to the operation of the programmes.

Although Mr Straw and Tony Blair have both taken a strong line on cutting crime, particularly the kind which blights many housing estates, zero tolerance has not before been adopted as official policy.

It demands that police confront people who drop litter or spit in the street, to reinforce the message that even the smallest crime will not be tolerated.

Labour's policy document on crime and justice was drawn up by a commission chaired by Mr Straw and approved by Labour's Joint Policy Committee, chaired by Mr Blair.

It marks the first stage of a policy-making process which will set out the party's anti-crime stance for the next general election. It says: "All too often it has been people living in the most deprived areas who have been the most victimised. High levels of crime and disorder have been compounded by poverty. We require policies with a greater degree of social intervention to create the conditions in which local people are empowered to regain control of their neighbourhoods."

Although the document does not go into detail about how Labour plans to take forward this type of policing, it appears to assume that it will do so. "What level of support and resources should be devoted to the operation of zero- tolerance policing?" it asks.

In Cleveland, the policy of constant vigilance against even the most minor crimes led to a 26 per cent drop in crime in 10 months after its introduction in 1996. However, it also coincided with a six-fold increase in civil claims against the police over a six-year period, from 27 in 1990 to 162 in 1996.

The number of stop-and- searches of suspects in the street quadrupled, and the Cleveland force used CS gas more than any other in Britain.

The same methods were used successfully in New York, though the city had 7,000 extra police officers to execute it.

The Cleveland force's approach hit the headlines last December when its creator, Ray Mallon, was suspended on suspicion of suppressing information about two detectives accused of giving drugs to prisoners in return for information.

Neighbouring forces made it clear they would have nothing to do with zero-tolerance. Frank Taylor, Chief Constable of Durham, said he had a better crime-fighting record than Cleveland, as did Northumbria.

Last night, the Association of Chief Police Officers said it was up to individual forces to decide whether to use the methods. But in a statement, it said that unless there was extra money, the policy could lead to resources being diverted from tackling more serious crimes.

"It would be wrong and dangerous to deal solely with the symptoms of any social breakdown without seeking to redress its causes," the association said.

Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the policy could encourage police to behave intolerantly. "As a catchphrase I think it is a dangerous one. Zero-tolerance implies not only that you don't tolerate crime but that the whole of law and order is geared to making people conform."

A Home Office spokeswoman said that while the Government's Crime and Disorder Bill did not specifically mention zero-tolerance policing, some of the measures it contained were in a similar spirit. In particular, anti-social behaviour orders and child curfews were introduced in that vein, she said.

Further fears will be raised by figures published in today's Independent which show police stopped and searched 4.5 black people and 1.3 Asians for every white person, proportionate to population. An unpublished report commissioned by Scotland Yard showed only one search in 10 led to an arrest, implying the vast majority were unnecessary.

Stop and search, page 4

Leading article, page 14