Police extol 'pre-charge' policy

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A pre-charge warning system is saving Bay police time processing lower level offending and unclogging choked courts.

Bay of Plenty police issued 2283 pre-charge warnings in the 2011/12 financial year - mostly for breaching the local liquor ban, disorderly behaviour and fighting in a public place.

Western Bay of Plenty area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said the warnings were used when appropriate, enabling police to spend more time preventing serious offending.

"It takes victims' views into account and can be used when it is deemed not to be in the public interest for the matter to be put before the court.

"It is not available for serious offending or that which involves family violence or methamphetamine."

Police issued 21,866 pre-charge warnings nationwide in the 2011/12 financial year, freeing up around 37,000 police hours, Police Minister Anne Tolley said.

The time saved was the equivalent of 21 additional frontline officers, Ms Tolley said.

The warnings reduced the flow of new charges to District Courts by 12 per cent - saving police time preparing court files, Mrs Tolley said.

Pre-charge warnings for low-level offences were introduced nationwide in September 2010.

Police can arrest a person, take them to the station for processing and, if appropriate and the offender admits guilt, police can issue a warning as an alternative to a charge or prosecution.

The warning goes on the offender's record and is included in police crime statistics.

"Police are getting these offenders off the streets and out of volatile situations, punishing them, and by using discretion are making sure they don't clog up our judicial system with offences which would probably have led to diversion," Mrs Tolley said.

Nearly 80 per cent of those who received warnings were not re-arrested for a subsequent offence within six months, which showed "offenders are taking the pre-charge warnings seriously".

The streamlined police system has even drawn praise from Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar.

"I don't have too many problems with it."

Mr McVicar said he was happy the offending still appeared on police stats and offenders' records but feared the warnings would be extended to more serious crimes.

"We'll give it a cautious thumbs up at this stage.

"We all make mistakes and provided you learn, it kicks you back on track and you become a legal law-abiding citizen, then I'm happy with that."


- Bay of Plenty Times

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