New police powers to arrest kerb-crawlers will be announced by the Home Office today. Offenders now face being taken into police stations, having their photographs taken and giving fingerprints and DNA samples.
The changes, introduced as part of the Criminal Justice and Police Act and in effect from today, are expected to have a major impact on the policing of street prostitution, and also on the ability of officers to arrest hit-and-run drivers.
Currently police officers cannot prevent kerb-crawlers leaving the scene and must issue them with a summons to attend a police station. Only 691 people were prosecuted for kerb-crawling in 1999, of which 599 were convicted.
A Home Office source said: "Kerb-crawling is very much part of the nuisance caused to communities by street prostitution. At the moment, soliciting is arrestable but kerb-crawling is not. These changes make it clear that kerb-crawlers are as much a part of the problem as the street prostitutes."
The new powers, which are already available to police in Scotland, follow a House of Commons debate on street prostitution last month, called by Gisela Stuart, the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, who has campaigned against such problems in the Balsall Heath residential area of her constituency.
West Midlands Police has pledged to use the new powers to implement a crackdown on kerb-crawling in the red light area, which it says has been "notoriously difficult to police".
The changes to the law on hit-and-run drivers are in response to concerns raised by the Association of Chief Police Officers that officers may be accused of wrongful arrest if they try to apprehend suspects.
Police could previously only hold suspected hit-and-run drivers if they had reason to believe they posed a risk to injury or property or where it would be impractical to serve a summons. As a result, officers often felt unable to arrest drivers who had returned home after being observed by witnesses leaving the scene of an accident.
Hit-and-run drivers are a significant problem in England and Wales. In 1999, 27,259 people were prosecuted for the offence and 25,471 convicted.
The Home Office will also unveil new powers for Customs officers investigating the smuggling of child pornography and other obscene material. The crimeis to be made a "serious arrestable offence", allowing customs investigators to deny suspects their one telephone call for 36 hours after their arrest.
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