Senior police propose ?80 tickets for people carrying blades in an attempt at faster justice
Senior police officers want their forces to be able to issue on-the-spot ?80 fines to people caught carrying a knife, according to a confidential document seen by The Observer.
A number of chief constables are calling on the government to give police officers the power to issue 'Penalty Notices for Disorder' rather than having to refer offenders to magistrates' courts, which can impose prison sentences of up to two years for the possession of a knife. They believe the move would speed up justice and take pressure off the courts.
The controversy comes as the Home Secretary John Reid plans a new drive to curb antisocial behaviour. In a tough-talking presentation last week to Cabinet colleagues, including the Prime Minister, Reid outlined a number of ideas - including a publicity campaign to urge the public to stop 'moaning' and play their part in reporting antisocial behaviour to the police. But a senior aide stressed last night that no final decision on specific proposals had been taken.
Earlier this month Reid responded to a spate of recent knife attacks, urging mandatory jails term for those caught in possession of a knife.
Alex Kamondo Mulumbu, 15, was stabbed in the heart after being confronted by a gang of eight to 10 black youths after he got off a bus in Lambeth, south London, last Thursday night. Five people have since been arrested in connection with the attack.
Other recent knife attacks include the murders of Special Constable Nisha Patel-Nasri, 15-year old schoolboy Kiyan Prince and the 19-year-old university student, Thomas Grant.
But senior police officers feel that the use of fixed penalty fines - in certain circumstances - may have a greater deterrent in reducing knife crime.
A confidential consultation document issued last month by Keir Hopley, head of sentencing at the Home Office, examined ways of expanding the use of fixed-penalty fines to include a range of new offences. The document was based on suggestions submitted by the chief constables of the 43 police forces, as well as input from the Home Office.
According to the document, a number of chief constables want their officers to have the power to issue on-the-spot fines to those who sell knives to minors or are found with a knife or other bladed article.
But the call for the use of fixed penalties to be expanded will prove controversial. They are currently issued for minor offences, such as being drunk and disorderly or purchasing alcohol for a minor.
'What message does this send to people?' asked Jan Berry, chair of the Police Federation, which represents the interests of 140,000 rank-and-file officers in England and Wales. 'We can't say with one breath 'we find knife crime unacceptable' and then in the same breath say 'if you pay ?80 we'll say nothing more about it', she said.
Berry warned that, if given the powers, many police officers would look to issue fixed penalty fines, rather than deal with the bureaucracy associated with sending an offender to the magistrates' courts.
However, Steve Anderson, chief inspector with West Midlands police, said the expansion of fixed penalty fines was something many police forces supported. 'It's about having the option,' he said. It's not about saying, "the only way to deal with a certain offence is through the use of a penalty notice for disorder." They are a modern version of the clip around the ear. They are often more effective than the long-winded bureaucratic process of going through the courts.'
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said it was looking at the issue. 'The Acpo position is that this has been discussed and further consultation is required,' said Mike Robinson, its policy officer on criminal justice
'This piece of work has not been put to the Home Secretary or ministers,' a Home Office spokesman said. 'On the contrary, the Home Secretary is reviewing sentences to see how they could be toughened up in respect of knife crime.'