'Golden hellos' of £5,000 to boost police numbers

Home Secretary's plan will 'revolutionise' the service, reduce form-filling and get more officers into 'frontline policing'
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The Independent Online

"Golden hellos" of up to £5,000 are likely to be offered to new police officers to overcome the recruitment crisis.

"Golden hellos" of up to £5,000 are likely to be offered to new police officers to overcome the recruitment crisis.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, under pressure from opposition parties over falling police numbers, said potential recruits were being put off by low pay, particularly in London and the Home Counties, where living costs are high. Mr Straw yesterday revealed how £285m announced in last week's Budget would be spent on modernising Britain's Criminal Justice System and improving police wages. He said that £91m would be spent on the police service, to reverse a recruitment pattern which has seen total officer numbers in England and Wales fall by 1,400 since the last election.

The Home Secretary also unveiled a plan to use computers to tackle crime and cut through the bureaucracy which is stifling the criminal justice system. Mr Straw said he was disturbed by the fact that police officers were frequently having to fill out the same information on 20 different forms for a single offender.

The new pay rates for police recruits in London would, Mr Straw said, "fill the gap" left by the loss of the London housing allowance of £5,600 in 1994.

He conceded that any new offer would have to include millions of pounds in compensation to all those Metropolitan Police officers who had joined in the last six years and not received housing payments. The Home Secretary said that although inquiries about a career in the Met remained constant at around 47,000 a year, only some 65 were currently being recruited each month when 150 were needed.

He said most who chose not to join up cited low pay as the stumbling block. Met constables receive a starting salary of £20,517, including a London allowance. The new pay deal, which would be drawn up by the Home Office's Police Negotiating Board, would look at the options of upping the basic rate of pay for Met constables, increasing the current London allowance of £2,553 or reinstating the housing allowance. Mr Straw said: "Around £11m of the new money will enable the existing plans for 5,000 additional recruits to be delivered over two years rather than three."

The Home Secretary also unveiled his plans to revolutionise the old paper-based case administration by introducing a computer system which police said would "transform" their working lives. And he unveiled new technology designed to break the use of encrypted messages by organised crime rings and to gather evidence from lawfully seized computer data.

Mr Straw allocated £40m of the package to the National Strategy for Police Information Systems, which is expected to cut by half the time police spend on the paperwork of cases. The Home Secretary said the programme would mean that "more officers are released for frontline policing".

The weight of paperwork now required in even the most minor crime incidents has become a major bugbear of the police service. Last August, it was claimed that a police officer had spent nine hours filling out 249 pieces of paperwork in relation to the arrest of a single offender who was accused of stealing a bottle of whisky from a supermarket in Bristol.

Yesterday, Superintendent Neil Grant-Salmon, of the Police Information Technology Organisation, which has developed the strategy, said: "The average time that an officer is off the street dealing with somebody in custody is four hours - and that can be for a really minor shoplifting offence."

He said the new technology would ensure that officers did not have to fill out the suspect's personal details on 17 separate forms as was currently the case. Supt Grant-Salmon said computers could transfer 80 per cent of a suspect's custody file to their case preparation file for the Crown Prosecution Service, which was previously written out in long-hand.

The new system will also be able to hold digital files of audio and video recordings of evidence, to scan in written statements and to link this with the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System. It is expected to help the Government reach its target of reducing the time taken to get a case before the courts from 141 days to 71 days.

Mr Straw announced that £25m would be provided to the Government Technical Assistance Centre, which develops the use of new technology for detecting crime and gathering intelligence. A further £21m has been allocated for the roll-out of plans to videotape all recordings of suspects in police stations, a move that will be subject to the passing of new legislation.

Mr Straw said: "What we have seen since the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is a transformation of police interviewing techniques."

But he said video recordings would cut out the need for the "time-consuming" process of transcribing interviews and that it would be "helpful" for juries actually to see how questions were answered.