Tens of thousands of criminals will be charged by a letter through the post under government plans to cut police bureaucracy, home secretary Theresa May has said.
Mrs May, who vowed to free up 2.5m hours of police time, said officers must get out from behind their desks and back on to the streets, with the “discretion to do what they think is right, free from the interference of Whitehall, free to do their job, free to fight crime”.
The move, which will target minor offences including theft and criminal damage, will see bailed suspects sent formal charges through the post instead of being asked to attend police stations, freeing up officers’ time.
Police officers will also be given greater discretion over charging decisions and over how they prioritise calls, while the level of detail they need to collect on minor offences will be reduced.
Mrs May said: “For appropriate police bail cases, this will allow officers to send a written charge by post, requiring the defendant to attend court on a specific date to answer the charge, rather than calling the suspect back to the police station for charging.
“This could save up to another 40,000 police officer hours annually.”
The home secretary added that the government will also “pilot doubling the number of charges transferred to police officers, giving them responsibility for nearly 80% of charging decisions, including shoplifting cases”.
And burdens, targets and guidance which are scrapped nationally should not be replaced by local versions in each of the 43 forces, she said.
Under the moves, frontline officers will also be encouraged to deal with most complaints quickly and informally themselves.
Mrs May added that the reforms, which she described as “a watershed moment in policing”, were a “massive transfer of power from the government to the people”.
“It will send a clear signal that the professional judgment of individual officers is valued and it is expected,” she said.