Met will 'downgrade' minor offences to focus on muggers

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The Independent Online

Police officers will not automatically be sent to burglaries and disputes between neighbours under controversial proposals being considered by Scotland Yard.

The Metropolitan Police may also ignore cases involving motorists who drive away from petrol stations without paying, and hand out verbal warnings to first-time shoplifters. The moves are being considered to free officers so they can help to tackle street crime, which is at record levels in the capital.

The Met has already taken the emergency measure of redeploying 315 traffic officers, 100 riot officers and 160 traffic wardens to patrol the streets and focus on muggers in nine problem boroughs. The operation has already resulted in nearly 6,000 arrests in two weeks.

But the police need more resources to pursue the initiative, and are considering a range of cuts. The proposals, which would come into force in April, include not sending uniformed officers to burglaries if the offender has fled; instead, a scene-of-crime officer will take details and look for evidence.

The police may also issue verbal warnings rather than arrest people for offences that rarely result in a successful prosecution. These include incidents of common assault in which people do not resort to physical violence. "We get thousands of these, and when we investigate it goes nowhere," explained Deputy Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin.

He says that if the police simply warn the person or take details on the telephone, they will save hours on paperwork. An arrest is far more likely, however, if there is a repeat victim, if it is a domestic incident, or racially motivated.