PSNI to issue fines for low-level crimes

Police officers in the North are to be handed new powers to deal with low-level crime without the need for extensive paperwork, it emerged tonight.

The PSNI is being given the authority to issue on-the-spot fines and cautions for offences such as drunk and disorderly behaviour, vandalism and shoplifting.

At present the police have to prepare a file for the Public Prosecution Service for each and every crime they investigate.

It is hoped the new measures will see officers spending less time behind desks filling in forms and more out on the beat. They should also improve the PSNI's clearance rates for dealing with offences.

Senior police chiefs have long been lobbying the British government for powers currently available to other forces across the UK.

Sources close to the negotiations tonight indicated that the Northern Ireland Office has now agreed to the PSNI request.

An official announcement is expected by the end of this month.

Police will now be able to issue either fixed-penalty notices to offenders or recommend to the PPS that, if they admit guilt, they be given a conditional caution, without the need to go through the courts.

The development comes only weeks after a leaked internal report on the PSNI claimed that the service is being choked with paperwork, with 61% of officers' time spent inside stations rather than on the streets.

The Strategic Review 2009 document said a bureaucratic "compliance-based culture" within the PSNI had blunted its ability to serve the public.

An NIO spokesman tonight said negotiations on the new powers were ongoing and an announcement was expected "in the near future".

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