The Metropolitan Police issued 29,560 cautions in 2013/14, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
The FOI, made by GLA Conservative Tony Arbour, shows an increase in police cautions for serious crimes from 2012/13 — cautions for wounding/GBH rose from 180 to 1,356, and from 165 to 286 for sexual offences.
For anyone who's never been on the receiving end of one, cautions can be informal (simple) or formal (conditional). Informal is a verbal warning given by a police officer and does not count towards a criminal record (basically a bit of a telling off). A formal caution, on the other hand, is more serious and is delivered by an officer of inspector rank or above. It can also be used in any subsequent court proceedings.
While it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that, with significant cuts to the service, police have to prioritise, we do think rape and assault should rank slightly higher than water cannon and indulging shonky tabloid investigations. It's not the first time the London Assembly Conservatives have criticised the Met's track record — last year they reckoned the police were not investigating around 45% of reported crime.
The Met says cautions are used 'predominately to deal with first-time offenders and as an alternative to court appearance', though the Tory figures have highlighted 879 offenders who have avoided court at least twice and 236 who have been cautioned more than five times. The chances are that if someone has admitted a crime on five separate occasions, a caution isn't quite cutting it as a deterrent. Tony Arbour said:
"The public can’t have confidence in a system where so many offenders are dealt with outside of court, just so that cases can be disposed of quickly. In effect, these people are being let off — some characters on more than five occasions. Cautions and fines should only be used as a warning the first time a criminal is caught."
Following a review on police use of cautions last year, the The Ministry of Justice issued guidance in November that 'criminals should not get more than one ‘simple’ (we assume this means 'informal') caution in a two year period for the same, or similar offence, except for in exceptional circumstance and if it is signed off by an Inspector'. Specifically:
The Government has already decided to ban the use of simple cautions for the most serious offences (known as indictable only) including rape and robbery and a range of other ‘either way’ offences (crimes which can be tried either in the Magistrates’ or Crown Courts). These serious either way offences include possession of any offensive weapon, supplying Class A drugs and a range of sexual offences against children.
It's hard to imagine any circumstances around an arrest and confession for rape or sexual offences against children which could result in a caution being deemed appropriate, though the Met has previously been criticised for 'no-crime' of rape allegations.
The GLA Conservatives are also calling on the Met to provide greater transparency around the use of cautions by publishing figures online on a quarterly basis. They also want to see victims provided with a written explanation of the reasons behind the decision, within a week of it being made. The calls come at the same time as City Hall announces an extra £2.4m to support crime victims in London.
Photo by Paul Biggs in the Londonist Flickr pool.