Thousands of crimes are being dealt with by way of written apologies, handshakes and bunches of flowers, rather than convictions or cautions, as part of a revolution in local policing.
Ad hoc penalties for offences including assault, theft and vandalism, are being brokered by police officers who are encouraged to use common sense and abandon Whitehall targets.
The officer leading the experiment, Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, told The Times that his force was delivering ?bespoke justice?, which was creative, swift and welcomed by victims. Officers, Mr Sims said, were administering ?a moral clip round the ear? to offenders.
At the heart of ?community resolution? is a 21st-century version of Dixon of Dock Green policing, with beat bobbies exercising their own judgment.
Since the experiment began in April, the West Midlands force has used community justice to deal with more than 8,000 offences. Each case resolved locally saves 15 hours of police time, compared with using custody and courtroom. Victim satisfaction has reached 93 per cent.
The police service appears to be divided over the policy. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has reported concerns that police forces had been downgrading serious offences, while Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, called for more cases to go before the courts. ?We must be careful not to abandon the benefits of a performance culture just because it is unfashionable,? he said.
Mr Sims denied that ?community resolution? was trivialising offences and said that serious crimes were always prosecuted through formal prosecution channels. ?The criminal justice system belongs in a domain of serious crime. We do it no favours if we clutter it up with things that are better dealt with by other means.?
The West Midlands chief cited the case of a boy, 13, who stole a ?600 necklace from a girl that he knew. He was made to return it, apologise and hand out crime prevention leaflets in a local supermarket.
?The offender is getting a moral clip round the ear and there is an outcome which has real impact on him,? he said. ?Let?s be realistic about what would have happened in the courts, it would have taken a long time and with no previous convictions would have ended up with a caution or a warning. This outcome is more bespoke, thoughtful, targeted and relevant to the offender and the victim.?
If introduced nationally, the approach could end situations where forces have been encouraged to deal with playground spats by arresting children, taking their DNA and giving them criminal records.
Mr Sims said: ?There are no winners in taking that down the criminal justice route. The only reason that became the norm was the performance pressure on detection.?
?We?ve turned ourselves into an organisation which is very good at meeting targets but is not necessarily very good at meeting aspirations. If you are going to boost public confidence you have got to do extraordinary things.?
But Denis O?Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, found that some forces had made serious errors in categorising violent offences as minor or no crime at all. ?While the actual numbers of wrongly recorded crimes are small, this is not about statistics but victims ? victims that need police help the most,? he said.