Dial B for burglary as police keep their distance


Crime Correspondent

Many crimes, including car theft, some burglaries, stealing and vandalism, will be dealt with by the police on the telephone rather than in person in the future, a Home Office review has decided.

Special "crime desks" and "crime lines" are to be set up to take witness statements and answer queries, in an attempt to get extra officers on patrol and to target more serious offences.

The moves towards more "telephone investigations" are bound to be criticised for distancing the police from the public, but chief constables and the Home Office argue that much time is wasted on unnecessary visits. They follow a 15-month investigation by the Home Office to identify which police tasks can be streamlined and which ones can be hived off to the private sector and local authorities.

The review has decided that fewer officers should be used at public events and the police are to be stripped of a number of responsibilities, including taking in stray dogs, escorting wide loads and issuing court summonses and warrants.

Local authorities will be expected to be more involved in finding missing children.

The Review of Police Core and Ancillary Tasks, details of which have been obtained by the Independent, is one of the most fundamental reviews undertaken into the role of the policing in England and Wales. The final report, which is expected to be published in June, has the backing of the police and local authority organisations.

Much of the report deals with new methods of reducing paperwork and cutting the number of offences that automatically need an immediate response or visit by an officer. Although each crime will be decided on a case-by- case basis, the offences to be dealt with by telephone include the theft of property, car theft or breaking into a vehicle, criminal damage or vandalism. Certain burglaries, such as an attempted burglary in which no one witnessed the break-in, would also be considered suitable.

The use of "incident lines" will also be deployed to give out advice on issues such as the law. The techniques will be incorporated into a new police manual for best practice.

Chief constables have already decided on a policy not to respond automatically to every burglar alarm - because more than 90 per cent of them prove to be false.

The report will also say that more private stewards should be used to organise and direct public events, although the police will retain all powers over crowd control.

Functions to be taken from the police include dealing with stray dogs, unless they belong to prisoners or are considered dangerous. Local authority wardens will be responsible in future.

Local authorities will also take greater responsibility for dealing with noise pollution and will have to get more involved in tracing children missing from council homes.

Private firms will be used to escort abnormal loads on dual carriageways and motorways, but the police will be used on smaller roads.

The police will consider the final report as a triumph. A string of earlier Home Office suggestions have been axed or watered down after a skilful lobbying campaign by the police against an embattled Home Secretary.

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