Police arrest and charge fewer suspects: A survey reveals a growing gap between rising crime and prosecutions. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
MANY police forces are arresting fewer suspects and charging a smaller proportion of those they do apprehend, in spite of the rising crime rate, according to a survey conducted by the Independent.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has confirmed that arrests in up to half the 43 police forces in England and Wales either fell or showed little change during 1992. At the same time, magistrates' courts are reporting an unprecedented drop in cases.

John Hoddinott, Chief Constable of Hampshire and secretary of ACPO's crime committee, said he believed the reason for a decline in arrests may be that the police had 'reached the ceiling' of their ability to respond at a time of rising crime and finite resources. But he stressed that detections per officer had increased dramatically over the past 10 years.

Figures obtained by the Independent show:

Officers in London arrest fewer suspects on average than anywhere else in the country. In some forces, officers average three times more arrests per year than the Metropolitan Police. Nottinghamshire officers average 20 arrests a year.

Prosecutions in magistrates' courts fell by about 13 per cent at the end of last year - an unprecendented drop. In some urban areas, there were falls of up to 35 per cent.

In 1991 all but four forces suffered double-figure percentage increases in crime, but in only one force, Suffolk, did arrests increase by double figures. In 16 forces, the numbers of arrests dropped or rose by less than 1 per cent.

The figures - which are subject to variations in recording between forces - will add to the debate on police performance. Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, has called for more information on the police to be published, and suggested the creation of 'league tables'. He has expressed concern over falling arrest figures, particularly in London.

Some chief constables say league tables are too simplistic to evaluate performance properly. But others now cite favourable statistics, such as average arrests and detections per officer, in order to present their case against structural reforms.

Fewer arrests contribute to the nationwide reduction in detected crimes, which leads to fewer prosecutions. The slump in the detection rate was identified by the Independent in a survey last month. Subsequently, some senior police officers pointed to increased arrests as evidence of greater efficiency, but the latest arrest figures show that the picture varies considerably between forces.

Much of the reduction in offenders reaching court is attributable to increased cautioning. This is occurring in spite of pledges by Mr Clarke to Conservative audiences that police will 'catch and punish' criminals.

Formal cautioning - where offenders admit their crime - is promoted by the Home Office and supported by police, social workers and probation officers in an attempt to keep petty criminals, particularly juveniles, out of the criminal justice system and prevent reoffending.

Paul Cavadino, of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, welcomed the figures: 'Most adults given a warning are likely to be deterred from committing another offence.'

The figures, based on published and unpublished Home Office and police force totals, are for all arrests, including minor and traffic offences, which can account for one-third of the total. The Home Office refused to supply figures for recorded crime arrests only.

Full figures for 1992 are not yet available, but arrests dropped during the year in seven of 15 forces contacted by the Independent.

Geoffrey Pearson, Professor of Social Work at Goldsmith's College, south London, said the fall in arrests could be due to a reduction in information from the public because of lack of trust in the police.

'What we can see from these figures are the kind of bizarre regional variations found throughout the criminal justice system. It is very odd that Nottinghamshire seems to come out top in these kinds of tables - it also has more violent crimes per head of population than anywhere else. I reject the suggestion that the very size of London makes it more difficult for the police to use the solidity of communities to help solve crime. There are some very stable communities in London.'

Almost every one of the 17 forces which saw a significant rise in arrests during 1991 also saw a drop in the primary clear-up rate - the numbers of crimes solved by charge or cautions. Barry Irving, director of the Police Foundation, the independent research body, has speculated that this suggests forces are 'highly active, but less effective' because suspects are not being brought to court.

But the gap between arrests and charges also supports the arguments of many in the police that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act restricts their effectiveness and that increased pre-trial procedures and new rules on disclosure inhibit officers from making a charge unless they are convinced that a conviction is likely.

Richard Wells, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, last week warned his police authority that the effect of disclosure rules on the time of officers was 'immense and wide-reaching'. Mr Hoddinott said forces supported such changes, but the public had to recognise the consequences for the use of police resources.

----------------------------------------------------------------- ARRESTS: THE FORCES' LEAGUE TABLE ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1990 1991 1991 A B A B C NOTTINGHAMSHIRE 6 26 2 13 20 CLEVELAND 4 22 6 6 19 HAMPSHIRE 3 21 -1 20 19 LANCASHIRE 8 20 8 13 19 LINCOLNSHIRE 19 10 6 14 19 NORTHUMBRIA 5 12 4 11 19 WEST MIDLANDS 4 16 6 14 19 CUMBRIA 7 18 9 35 18 DURHAM 2 18 -3 20 18 HUMBERSIDE 2 14 -1 14 18 NORTH WALES 10 9 8 17 18 SOUTH WALES 7 18 3 17 18 STAFFORDSHIRE -1 22 6 19 18 GREATER MANCHESTER 1 15 0 12 17 NORTHAMPTONSHIRE 7 23 6 22 17 BEDFORDSHIRE 28 31 -1 6 16 CHESHIRE 11 16 7 20 16 KENT -1 24 2 34 16 THAMES VALLEY 3 23 1 26 16 WEST YORKSHIRE 4 25 2 25 16 GWENT 1 25 4 22 15 MERSEYSIDE 11 2 5 7 15 NORFOLK 18 22 -8 17 15 NORTH YORKSHIRE 15 29 3 11 15 SOUTH YORKSHIRE 9 14 4 17 15 WEST MERCIA 13 20 -1 18 15 CAMBRIDGESHIRE 12 21 -4 31 14 DORSET 9 20 5 8 14 DYFED-POWYS 8 17 6 25 14 ESSEX 5 24 0 13 14 GLOUCESTERSHIRE -35 20 0 32 14 HERTFORDSHIRE -1 11 2 20 14 LEICESTERSHIRE 1 33 6 23 14 WARWICKSHIRE 3 30 7 23 14 AVON & SOMERSET 6 27 -8 21 13 SUFFOLK 7 18 13 6 13 SUSSEX -4 26 5 18 13 DERBYSHIRE 1 24 -6 25 12 DEVON & CORNWALL 2 20 8 17 12 WILTSHIRE 8 21 5 17 12 SURREY 7 26 -5 18 11 CITY OF LONDON 9 0 -3 7 6 METROPOLITAN 7 10 0 11 5.5 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Key: A: % change in total arrests B: % increase in recorded crime C: Average number of arrests per officer - obtained by dividing force establishment by number of arrests for year. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Home Office -----------------------------------------------------------------

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