Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 17:47 UK

Police to get more powers over charging crime suspects

Home Secretary, Theresa May: "I want police to be crime fighters not form fillers"

Police in England and Wales will be given more discretion to decide when some crime suspects should be charged.

Home Secretary Theresa May also pledged cuts in bureaucracy and a "massive" transfer of power to communities, with locally-elected police commissioners.

Shadow home secretary Alan Johnson said elected officials - which police authorities oppose - would "politicise operations" and undermine the service.

Ms May also warned forces would have to share the burden of the recession.

Speaking to the Police Federation conference she announced a "full review" of pay and conditions for police officers and staff.

However she confirmed that the remainder of the police's three-year pay deal, negotiated by the Labour government, would be honoured.

But she stepped back from guaranteeing police numbers - currently around 140,000 - would not fall as a result of cuts.

[Elected police commissioners] would introduce more politics to policing - which is something nobody wants
APA chairman Rob Garnham

Following the home secretary's speech in Bournemouth, Mr Johnson said the plan for elected commissioners would "undermine the basic principles of policing in this country which have existed for over 200 years".

"Theresa May said she wants to listen to the police but if she did she would already know that at every level the police vehemently oppose these proposals," he said.

The Association of Police Authorities (APA) - which represents forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - said it "strongly disagreed" with the plan.

APA Chair Rob Garnham said: "Like many of our senior police colleagues, police authorities do not believe that introducing more politics to policing would be in the interests of the communities we serve."

He added they welcomed proposals on cutting bureaucracy and giving more information to people about crime in their area.

'Not running police'

Giving her first speech since taking office, Ms May confirmed the power to charge people suspected of low-level offences would be returned to police.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is currently responsible for making decisions in all but the most minor cases.

I want the police to be crime fighters not form fillers
Home Secretary Theresa May

Under the new scheme - which was already being piloted before the general election - offences which could fall under the control of uniformed officers include common assault, theft or breach of bail.

Ms May went on to say she wanted to give officers more freedom and responsibility by cutting down on bureaucracy and reducing interference from Whitehall.

"I'm not interested in running the police. If I wanted to run the police I would have done what you all did and joined the police force," she said.

"That is not the home secretary's job," she added.

Unpopular plan

The government would consider dismantling "the targets in disguise" - such as Key Performance Indicators - and would stop burdening forces with short-term "initiatives and gimmicks", she said.

But she said in return for more freedom the police must accept "a transfer of power over policing from Whitehall to communities by giving local people a real say over how their streets are policed".

Local accountability would happen through elected police commissioners, she said.

The proposal would in "no way undermine your operational independence", she promised.

Ms May said the government would also "untangle the knot" of restrictive health and safety rules and re-balance the law in favour of those who stood up to anti-social behaviour.

She said national "one-size-fits-all" targets would be scrapped and unnecessary paperwork dropped.

Delegates applauded when she said "stop forms" - used when people are stopped in the street - would be scrapped and the stop-and-search procedures simplified.

Ms May said: "I want the police to be crime fighters not form fillers."

Police were also told more detailed crime maps would be published to enable the public to challenge them on their performance at local beat meetings.

'Initiative fatigue'

Ms May provoked laughter and applause with a reference to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

She said: "Somebody once said you need to be 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'. And for once he was right. He just didn't really do it."

Earlier, Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever warned the home secretary to be wary of advice from civil servants and highlighted the high turnover of Home Office ministers in recent years.

Mr McKeever said police needed to be accountable but were suffering from "initiative fatigue", and fed up with bureaucrats constantly checking their work.

He also called on Ms May to block the release from prison of police-killers.

Theresa May with police officers
A review said current procedures for charging were complex and inefficient

He had previously welcomed the expected plan to cut bureaucracy and give more charging powers to police sergeants.

Earlier he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've been calling for this for some time. It's treating us like adults, grown-up professionals."

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it would simply mark a return to a tried and tested system.

An inspection report 18 months ago concluded charging procedures were complex and inefficient, and significant numbers of suspects were granted police bail because the process took too long.

Last month, a pilot scheme allowing officers more discretion to charge suspects started in five police force areas.

The scheme - first announced last November by the CPS and Association of Chief Police Officers - will run until October.

A CPS spokesperson said: "The pilots are running as planned and... will be the subject of an evaluation which will inform further implementation."

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