Targets 'force police to make ludicrous arrests'

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The Independent Online

Frontline police called on the Government today to reverse the target-driven culture that has forced them to make "ludicrous" decisions such as arresting a child for throwing cream buns.

The Police Federation annual conference in Blackpool will debate today whether judging officers purely on how many arrests, cautions or on-the-spot fines they can deliver is making a mockery of the criminal justice system.

The federation said the drive to meet Whitehall performance targets was compelling officers to criminalise middle England.

The organisation published a dossier of ridiculous cases they claimed resulted from Home Office targets placed on beat bobbies.

The cases included:

* A Cheshire man who was cautioned by police for being "found in possession of an egg with intent to throw";

* A child in Kent who removed a slice of cucumber from a tuna mayonnaise sandwich and threw it at another youngster and was arrested because the other child's parents claimed it was an assault;

* A West Midlands woman arrested on her wedding day for criminal damage to a car park barrier when her foot slipped on her accelerator pedal;

* A Kent child who was arrested for throwing cream buns at a bus;

* A 70-year-old Cheshire pensioner - who had never been in trouble with the law - who was arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour's conifers too vigorously;

* One West Midlands officer who was told to caution a man for throwing a glass of water over his girlfriend;

* Two Manchester children who were arrested under firearms laws for being in possession of a plastic toy pistol.

A spokesman for the federation, which represents 130,000 rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, said the power to use discretion should be returned to the bobby on the beat.

"We have got into the situation where everyone is so busy chasing targets and securing ticks in boxes we are on the verge of distancing ourselves from middle England," he said.

"The cases we have compiled show incidents where an officer has been under such pressure to deliver it has resulted in an arrest or caution when even the officer themselves thinks it is ludicrous.

"Understandably, when the public hears about this, they ask 'What the hell is going on?'."

He added: "It is a Government agenda that is going down this avenue.

"Officers are saying they are forced to make arrests or cautions for this lunacy because the Government believes they should be judged by what can be counted."

Federation chairman Jan Berry said: "We have police officers who are considering leaving the service over this because it is not the job they signed up to do.

"These examples we have compiled are ludicrous but when people are being pushed to show results, they will use anything they can to demonstrate they are doing a good job."

Mrs Berry said she would raise the issue with Home Secretary John Reid when he attends the conference later in the week.