Thursday, September 9, 2010

Minor offenders to be let off with warnings

New Zealand police announced a new policy today, which means that minor offenders may be given warnings instead of being sent to court.

Police say the new policy will free up time to focus on serious offenders, and will reduce the court backlog by tens of thousands every year.

Project leader, Superintendent Bill Searle says, "This initiative enables police officers to spend less time on paperwork, less time appearing in court and more time out on the street preventing offences and focusing on more serious offending."

When an offender is arrested, if they are over the age of 17 and the offence carries less than six months' imprisonment, it is up to the discretion of a senior officer whether to press charges, or impose a warning, which will stay on their record.

The system has been on trial in Auckland for the past 10 months, where nearly 10% of offenders were let off with a warning. So far none of those warned have re-offended.

Police believe this warning system is a "significant deterrent." Supt. Bill Searle says, "We know from similar approaches overseas a large proportion of people who receive a pre-charge warning never re-offend."

However, some people think the police are going soft. Lawyer and former ACT MP Stephen Franks says, "We know that offenders tend to be gamblers. If there's a prospect they won't pay any price, the research is very clear there's more offending."

It has been common knowledge for sometime now that New Zealand police resources are spread thin. Policy or no policy the police are required to prioritise their time based on the seriousness of an offence.

The benefits of this policy for the police force are palpable. They will have more time and resources to do their job - prevent crime and road trauma, to enhance public safety and to maintain law and order. They will invest more energy in apprehending and convicting serious offenders.

There are also benefits for our legal system. Our courts are overrun with cases involving minor offenders. The warning policy will reduce the number of court appearances by tens of thousands each year providing more time for high priority cases.

Then there are the advantages for the taxpayer. Diverting tens of thousands of offenders from court cases and short prison sentences means a reduction in court and prison costs.

The main area of concern is whether a warning will serve as a serious deterrent for crime. There is also a potential for bias in leaving the decision of whether to press charges or issue a warning to the discretion of an individual police officer. The system may become a popular scapegoat for police to avoid paperwork and court time.

The new system rolls out nationwide, from this week. It is considered a controversial, but necessary move for police to free up valuable time and resources. Whether or not it serves the vision of safer communities together, only time will tell.

Credit to for this story.

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