POLICE cautions are issued to serious offenders to boost detection rates, a former top police officer claims.

Ex-Chief Supt Mick Thwaites spoke after the Echo revealed cautions had been given for crimes, including rape, burglary, robbery, grievous bodily harm and arson which had endangered lives.

Blaming the need to meet stringent Government targets, Mr Thwaites said there was too much pressure to “tick boxes” in order for police to meet detection rates.

In addition, he said the Crown Prosecution Service often made the decision for a caution to be issued because it had its own targets to meet, and based its decisions on whether there was a realistic chance of conviction.

Mr Thwaites said: “National performance indicators drive performance locally, whether you like it or not, and a quick, expeditious tick in a box meets that. That’s what concerns me, that policy can drive operations at ground level and that’s not where we should be.

“The decision-making should be purely down to officers at the time or the custody sergeant based on the victim, the circumstances or the environment, not on criteria sent from central Government.”

He stressed that community sentences, cautions and restorative justice could be appropriate in certain circumstances. But he believed many of the performance indicators needed to be scrapped – as the average person couldn’t care less about them. He also believed there needed to be a more “joined-up’’ approach between magistrates, the Crown Prosecution Service and police.

Mr Thwaites said it was “human nature” to try to meet targets, and did not lay the blame at the door of officers.

But he said the performance indicators were badly affecting the job – including the decision to make an arrest.

He said: “When you’re dealing with antisocial behaviour and public order offences on the street, if you arrest someone you create a violent crime, because you’ve got to ‘crime it’. So there’s no incentive to arrest someone on the street.”

Asked about pressures he faced when district commander, regarding meeting targets and ticking boxes, Mr Thwaites said: “At the end of the day, if the Government requires them [performance indicators] that’s what they get.

“Sadly, chief constables, whether they like it or not, have to answer to politicians and the Home Secretary, so it’s very difficult to fight that.”

Mr Thwaites is considering running for the new job of Essex’s police crime commissioner – who will be elected by the public.

He expects to make a decision by mid-February, but said it would depend on public feeling.

He believed this latest issue proved why an independent needed to hold the role – rather than a politician.

He said: “Whoever gets the crime commissioner job should be independent.

“Politics has no right to play in that role.

“It will be driven by what the people think is right and appropriate for their area.”