Nick Alston talks about cautions
Following the publicity in March about a caution issued to a burglar in the Chelmsford area, I discussed the case with Chief Constable Barker-McCardle. He commissioned a review of the use of cautions in Essex Police. The results of that internal review have of course been shared with me.
The review covered the most relevant crime types and its results are broadly reassuring to me as Police and Crime Commissioner. Cautions play an essential role in criminal justice, but using them appropriately is key. I am pleased to see that the use of cautions by Essex Police has steadily decreased in recent years. In the year to end February 2013, use was at the lowest level for seven years, both overall and as a percentage of all detected crime. This dispels any suggestion that their use has increased.
There has also been a suggestion that cautions can be used by police forces solely to reduce bureaucracy and to save the paperwork in preparing to send a case to court. The review found no evidence that this was the case in Essex.
The review did however test some of the more complex procedures that officers must follow if cautions are always to be used fairly and appropriately.
Compliance in eight specific points tested was generally good, but some areas where practices should be improved upon were identified. I was disappointed to see, for example, that often it was not possible to confirm whether or not an offender’s previous offending history had been checked, and also the review showed that some cautions had not been recorded onto PNC. This is now being put right.
I have discussed the review with the person who led the audit team, and ACC Wortley who supervised the work. An improvement plan has been developed which I also reviewed. This work will ensure the highest levels of compliance with Essex Police policy and the proper use of cautions by Essex Police officers.
It is also likely, however regrettable, that mistakes will occasionally be made. The review identified 8 cases, from around 5,000 offences, where cautions were used in circumstances which appear inappropriate. Each case is being re-examined.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex