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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Arrests for all offences proposed
Police handcuffs
All offences could prompt arrest under Home Office proposals
Police in England and Wales could be given powers to arrest people for minor offences such as graffiti or litter.

Officers can arrest people for crimes carrying at least five year sentences - but must negotiate a "bewildering array" of powers to allow arrests on less serious charges.

A Home Office consultation paper also proposes to allow drug tests of people when arrested, and to make it easier to search suspects and their property.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears says the aim is to modernise police powers.

But shadow home secretary David Davis dismissed the proposals as "another headline grabbing initiative from a gimmick crazy home secretary".

All offences to be arrestable
Search warrants to cover more than one property, one search and to stay in force longer
Community Support Officers to get range of new powers, including to search detainees
Drug tests allowed on arrest rather than only when a suspect is charged
Fixed penalty fines to pay for more use of automatic number plate recognition technology
New offence of having an incorrectly registered vehicle
New power to stop and search under-18s suspected of carrying fireworks
Allow police to take DNA, fingerprints, shoeprints covertly

The measures are now out for consultation, with comments invited by the Home Office until 8 October.

Under the new plans, all offences including minor "anti-social behaviour" ones could in theory lead to an arrest, but there would be strict guidelines to determine when an arrest was appropriate.

Officials described their consultation document as a "tidying-up exercise" which would resolve confusion over the law, rather than result in many more arrests.

"What we are saying here is that in future all offences will be arrestable but that does not necessarily mean that everybody will be arrested because there will be a necessity test," Ms Blears told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

"A constable could come upon an offence and he might not be sure whether it is arrestable or not. In future that would be very clear.

I have yet to hear any serious voice in policing in this country say that the problem the police faces is that they don't have powers to arrest people for dropping litter
Shami Chakrabarti

"The range of offences on the statute book, some are serious arrestable offences, some are prosecutable by a summons - that's the way our legal system is .

"We are saying [we could make] every offence arrestable but what we are also saying is that you have to show that it was necessary in these circumstances," she added.


But Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said it was "disproportionate" to make offences which could not carry a prison sentence arrestable.

What is the point? I've not seen a policeman on the streets in ages.
Gary Davey, Colchester

The broader the powers the police were given, the more they were used in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner, she claimed.

"I have yet to hear any serious voice in policing in this country say that the problem the police faces is that they don't have powers to arrest people for dropping litter," she told Today.

Keith Taylor, Principal Speaker of the Green Party, said: "These proposals are the latest in a series of attacks on civil liberties by a government that already monitors its citizens more closely than any in Britain's history."

Civilian wardens

The government is also considering allowing police to test anyone they have arrested for drugs, regardless of whether they have been charged with an offence.

Police believe that testing suspects at an earlier stage would help isolate drug users more efficiently.

The paper also proposed giving more powers to community support officers.

They could get greater powers to direct traffic, tackle beggars, search people for weapons and enforce bylaws, so that police officers were free to concentrate on front-line duties, the consultation paper said.

We hope that by having a full range of powers available to us, we can deal effectively with antisocial behaviour, be one step ahead of the criminal
Chief Constable Denis O'Connor
Association of Chief Police Officers

Police could also have the power to fingerprint drivers at the roadside, as well as at police stations.

The Home Office suggests changes the way search warrants work so they would be granted for any address connected to a suspect, not just a single address.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said it had not asked for all offences to be made arrestable, although there was a need to rationalise some powers and strengthen others.

A spokesman said making minor offences arrestable could act as a deterrent as it sent a strong message to perpetrators.

Acpo vice president Chief Constable Denis O'Connor welcomed the consultation on the power to take fingerprints by the roadside and take footwear impressions without consent.

But he sounded a "note of caution" on plans to extend the powers of community safety officers.

"We hope that by having a full range of powers available to us, we can deal effectively with antisocial behaviour, be one step ahead of the criminal and give people the confidence to live safely," he added.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Ministers have decided to simplify things"

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