Letter: A police force suffering from frustration cannot solve society's problems

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The Independent Online
Sir: As a serving police officer of nearly 15 years standing and a sergeant for the last four I would like to offer a factual account of an everyday arrest to illustrate why certain ill-informed sources are mistaken in their claim that police inefficiency is mainly responsible for the recent drop in arrests (reports, 24 and 25 February).

A typical example is a person arrested for shoplifting. Two constables 'on the beat' are assigned to this call. On arrival they find that, not uncommonly, the person takes a physical objection to being detained. A van and one more constable are required to restrain the prisoner and to escort him or her back to the station.

There, the custody officer 'books in' the prisoner - which takes 20 minutes to an hour depending on a number of factors. Once in a cell the prisoner can be left and the arresting PC and any others present at the arrest must record their evidence without delay. In this example, four constables write down in longhand a full account of what was done and said from the moment they received the call. This rarely takes less than 45 minutes and is then followed by the mandatory full repetition of that evidence, again in longhand, on a different form which is acceptable to the Crown Prosecution Service and to the courts.

The arresting PC then moves on to the remainder of the paperwork - a myriad of forms, all of which must be completed. In addition, any witness statements must also be taken by him, in longhand, at the time. The prisoner, if applicable, can then be charged, fingerprinted and bailed.

This is a simple arrest involving one prisoner and a small amount of property, yet it has deprived the station and the public of four PCs for at least three hours and for one of them probably another hour. From an eight-hour shift this is the major part of their working day or night and from a typical daily shift up to 50 per cent of the available manpower.

Sir Ivan Lawrence, chairman of the all-party Home Affairs Committee, would do well to attend a police station and witness for himself the demands of the latest 'pre-trial issues' paperwork we have to deal with. Perhaps then his judgement would contain more honesty and fairness.

Yours faithfully,


Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire