Yvette Cooper MP

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Cooper: More offenders are being let off serious and violent crimes as Government police cuts bite

Cooper: More offenders are being let off serious and violent crimes as Government police cuts bite
 
• Police forces are dealing with up to 14% of violent crimes against the person through "community resolutions" as police cuts bite and the number of officers falls.
 
• FOIs show a steep increase in serious offences - including domestic violence and knife crime - being dealt with by community resolutions since cuts started in 2010.
 
• Labour is calling for urgent government guidelines to make sure community resolutions are only used for low level crime and antisocial behaviour and for the government to recognise the real threat to justice from the scale of police cuts.
 
Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, commenting on FOIs which show a steep increase in serious offences being dealt with by community resolutions since cuts started in 2010 said:

"These figures are extremely serious.

"There has been a massive increase in the number of serious and violent crimes dealt with just by community resolution ever since the police cuts started - breaking all the expert guidance and promises from Ministers.

"Offenders who admit to serious and violent crimes - including knife crime, domestic violence, and serious assault - are increasingly being let off with no criminal record, no justice, and not even a caution. That's bad for justice, bad for victims, and goes against all the evidence.

"Theresa May and Chris Grayling both promised stronger action against serious and violent crime, especially knife crime - yet these shocking figures prove they have done the opposite.

"Theresa May's polices are letting far more serious offenders off.

"The idea that perpetrators of domestic violence are being let off for things like saying sorry to the victim is very disturbing and risks perpetuating the abuse.

"Evidence shows that community resolutions - especially if they include restorative justice - can be very effective ways to tackle anti-social behaviour and low level crime and that's why we support more evidence based use of community resolutions for things like anti-social behaviour.

"But the evidence and ACPO guidance are very clear that these should not be used for serious crimes, and should not be used for domestic violence at all. To do so risks giving community resolutions a bad name.

"Ministers have allowed this to happen.

"We know police forces are under pressure from the scale of cuts and demands to dispose of crimes. It is no coincidence that this big increase in community resolutions for serious crime comes at the same time as 15,000 officers are being lost.

"The police are doing less with less, and justice for serious crimes and vulnerable victims are being put at risk.

"The Home Secretary needs to grip this urgently - to issue strong guidance about when community resolutions should be used, to look again at the real consequences for justice and victims of police cuts, and to get serious about serious crime."
 
Ends
   
Editor's notes:

1. Background:

Police forces are dealing with up to 14% of violent crimes against the person through "community resolutions" as police cuts bite and the number of officers falls.

FOIs show a steep increase in serious offences - including domestic violence and knife crime - being dealt with by community resolutions since cuts started in 2010.

Key facts

• In 2012 Community Resolutions/RJ were used 33,673 times for violent crimes, including 10,160 offences of serious violence involving injury. These were 'non-sanction detections' outside of the formal criminal justice system.

• In 2012 police used Community Resolutions 2,500 for offences of domestic violence

• Community resolutions were used nearly 1,000 times in 2012 for hate crimes, 2,000 times for harassment and stalking and 100s of times for offences involving weapons and knives.

• Its use for violent crime has more than doubled since 2009 as police cuts bite
Labour is calling for urgent government guidelines to make sure community resolutions are only used for low level crime and antisocial behaviour and for the government to recognise the real threat to justice from the scale of police cuts.

Community Resolutions are only supposed to be used for low level crime or anti-social behaviour, not for serious crimes because there is no criminal record and no information put on the Police National Computer. The statistics uncovered by Labour show that existing ACPO guidelines are not being followed.

Community resolutions can have a restorative element which has proved to be very effective and valuable at dealing with low level crimes - it involves offenders making it up to the victim, for example by apologising, repairing the damage or helping in the community. Labour supports expanding the use of Community and Restorative Resolutions for tackling things like anti-social behaviour based on evidence and in line with national guidance that they can be more effective than traditional routes.

Despite growing concern that community resolutions have been used inappropriately for serious cases the Government has refused to provide any guidance or safeguards on when they can be used.

This trend has accelerated at a time of heavy cuts and the loss of national oversight of the CJ process, which Labour had made a priority. A Joint Inspection from HMIC, HMI Probation, HMI Prisons and the HMCPSI on Community Resolution found “inconsistencies... from an absence of clear national policies and wider public debate”.

There is also a postcode lottery of justice around England and Wales. A number of police forces use Community Resolution/RJ sparingly, with resolutions being 2 or 3% of recorded violent crime. However in some forces resolutions are being used for up to 14% of recorded violent crime.

2. What ACPO’s guidance says:

• According to the Association of Chief Police Officers Community Resolution/RJ is “for the resolution of a less serious offence or anti-social behaviour incident”.[1]

• It says the appropriate violent crimes for Community Resolution are likely to be low level, namely "minor assaults (without injury)".

• Specifically on Domestic Violence, ACPO states that "ACPO guidelines for domestic abuse/domestic violence does not support the use of RJ in determining outcomes in this area." Furthermore ACPO state that "DA/DV represents serious risk to the victims of such offences and is often subject to a complex and protracted investigation. As such there will be little opportunity for the use of RJ in the vast majority of such offences".[2]
[1] http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/criminaljustice/2012/201208CJBAComResandRJ.pdf
[2] http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/criminaljustice/2012/201208CJBARJMinStd.pdf

CPS guidelines state that RJ should typically be used with 'conditional cautions' - but Labour’s FOIs show it is being use for non-sanction detections, without any caution or criminal record.
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/restorative_justice/

3. What is a ‘Community Resolution’?

West Midlands police have one of the best descriptions about what 'Community Resolutions' are supposed to be delivering:

Community resolutions put the public at the heart of what we do and enable Wolverhampton police officers to apply common sense solutions to incidents of low level crime.

Community Resolutions: They put the needs of victims first, by asking people what outcome they would like to see. This can include a simple apology, offer of compensation or undertaking to clear up any graffiti or criminal damage and enables the public to become part of the solution.

Community resolutions mean that children and adults who have no previous convictions and make one stupid mistake do not need to be unnecessarily criminalised. It also frees up officers’ time, which can be devoted to higher level crime.

4. Some local examples of Community Resolutions:

• Two elderly men in the Springvale area got into a heated verbal dispute about the way in which their temple was being run. The argument escalated and resulted in them threatening each other with garden forks and spades. The attending police officer invited the pair to attend a mediation meeting at Bilston police station, in the presence of an experienced Sikh officer. The meeting allowed the two men to discuss their grievances and address some of the underlying issues that had led to the argument. At the end of the meeting, they apologised to one another for their behaviour.

• Two 11-year old boys who were caught stealing sweets from a store in Willenhall have promised to never shoplift again. PC Lee Heath from the East Park neighbourhood police team said: “We sat down with the boys and their parents and explained the community resolution process. We wanted to do something that would teach the young people the error of their ways and make a difference to the local community.“ The pair spent an afternoon picking up litter outside the supermarket. “We told them that if they ever did anything like this again, the consequences would be much more serious,” added PC Heath.
http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/np/wolverhampton/findoutmore/community-resolutions.asp

5. Labour’s FOIs show this guidance is not being followed, it is being used for serious crimes (with injury), knife crime and for domestic violence offences

Data
 

Violence against the person offences detected through community resolution/RJ

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Racially or religiously aggravated offences

29

291

455

627

996

Offences involving a weapon

28

19

51

98

89

Offences involving a blade or sharp point

2

16

21

66

77

Offences of serious violence

792

5,173

7,621

8,523

10,160

Offences involving cruelty to children

0

12

9

62

92

Threats to kill offences

9

22

42

27

41

Harassment

376

1,584

1,981

1,676

1,968

Other

968

6,006

11,553

14,245

18,497

Offences not identified

0

297

1,000

1,750

1,753

           

Total violence against the person

2,204

13,420

22,733

27,074

33,673

           

Note: Some forces did not provide offence level data. In these cases data is included in 'Offences not identified'.

 
           

Source: Responses to FoI requests

         

           
Domestic violence/Domestic Abuse

Based on FOI responses from 13 police forces (many forces don’t record domestic violence separately).

Domestic violence incidents detected using non-sanction community resolution/restorative justice:

2009: 373
2010: 1,098
2011: 1,935
2012: 2,488


6. What the Prime Minister and his Ministers had promised:

In July 2008 Mr Cameron, then in opposition, told the Sun: “The government should say not just there is a presumption you will be prosecuted if you carry a knife, but that there will be a presumption you will go to jail.”
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/justice/1388189/David-Cameron-vows-to-jail-anyone-carrying-a-knife-under-a-Tory-Government.html

And we are looking too at toughening up knife sentences, because to me a caution for carrying a knife just does not seem enough. And for anyone sentenced to a spell in prison, there will be space in prison.
http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/crime-and-justice-speech/

Theresa May said the Government was “absolutely clear” that anybody convicted of possessing a blade should get a prison sentence.

Speaking at the launch of an anti-knife crime report, Mrs May said: “We are absolutely clear that the sentence for somebody who is convicted of murder using a knife should be 25 years and that somebody found in possession, caught in possession and convicted of possession of a knife, should expect a custodial sentence."
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/226783/Carry-a-knife-and-you-will-be-locked-up-warns-Theresa-May

Mr Grayling said cops need “discretion”, but added: “The public and victims have a right to expect people who commit serious crimes to be brought before a court.”
Read more: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/4871159/Justice-Secretary-declares-war-on-police-cautions.html#ixzz2RqyUAQIL

Mr Grayling added: ‘While we should not remove police officer discretion, the public and victims have a right to expect that people who commit serious crimes should be brought before a court.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2303268/Chris-Grayling-Thugs-sex-attackers-escaping-justice-given-cautions.html#ixzz2Rr032Azm

Damian Green (Ashford, Conservative)
Serious and violent offenders deserve to go to prison. That is why we introduced mandatory life sentences for anyone convicted for a second time of a very serious sexual or violent offence, and tough extended determinate sentences for other dangerous offenders. The new regime restores clarity, coherence and common sense to sentencing.
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-03-19a.789.2&s=restorative+violent#g789.4

7. Government have ignored warnings that Community Resolution is being abused and that guidelines should be enforced by the Government

Warnings from the joint inspectorate

A Joint Inspection from HMIC, HMI Probation, HMI Prisons and the HMCPSI found that the use of informal resolutions by the police had “increased dramatically”. However, there was “wide variation in how forces had implemented resolutions schemes, including around the offences covered and which offenders were eligible”.
The Joint Inspectorate “looked at 66 police cases of informal resolution, and judged that the resolution was inappropriate in 14”.

They added that the members of the public they spoke to “in the areas inspected did not know much about RJ or informal resolution carried out by the police” and that “there was limited evidence that the community had been consulted at all on the formation of policies”.

The Joint Inspection said that: “Race hate crimes and domestic abuse involve serious offences where more formal interventions may be required.”

They concluded: “The inconsistencies outlined... reflect and have evolved from an absence of clear national policies and wider public debate.”

The investigation notes: “Informal resolutions do not amount to convictions. They are not legally recognised as disposals, and so are only disposals by virtue of the fact that they bring a conclusion to a case. They also do not constitute a criminal record and should not be entered onto the Police National Computer (PNC).” Page 23.
http://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/facing-up-to-offending-20120918.pdf

The Government has rejected calls for stronger guidance on RJ not being used for serious crimes

43. We acknowledge calls by some respondents for detailed guidance on how to apply, record and report on community resolution based on concerns around the integrity of the data, of officer decision making, the inability to compare like for like outcomes across different forces, strict audit and compliance frameworks, and the view that certain crime types are not suitable for community resolution.

44. The Government is clear that the aim of introducing community resolution into the framework is to recognise local approaches to dealing swiftly and surely with low level offending in a bespoke way, to the satisfaction of the victim and the wider community, and in such a way that it deters re offending. To ensure that officers are free to apply the most proportionate and effective response to low level crime and anti-social behaviour on a case by case basis, without additional bureaucracy, the Government does not intend to develop additional rules, guidance and caveats on community resolution within the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR).
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/157796/consultation-response.pdf

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