Hundreds of criminals have been handed police cautions for minor crimes in Harrogate rather than pressing ahead with a court prosecution, new figures reveal.
The data shows that 251 Community Resolution Disposal Orders (CRDs) were handed out by police officers in Harrogate in 2012, a figure up more than three times since 2010.
The cautions are given out for relatively minor crimes, say police, mainly for first time offenders, and to deal with cases “swiftly and simply” rather than press ahead with a court case.
And while the use of the cautions across the country - and the variance from one area to the next - has come under fire in the national press, police say they are perfectly “proportioned” to the crimes they were issued for.
“Each case will be considered on its own merits and unique set of circumstances,” said Leanne McConnell, head of criminal justice at North Yorkshire Police.
“These include considerations such as the gravity and nature of the offence, the history of the offender and the victims’ wishes.”
A total of 540 people in Harrogate have been handed CRDs in the last three years including one, in Knaresborough, which saw a boy in his mid-teens given a caution for a minor sexual offence against two children.
In York, that figure was 1,042, and in Scarborough, 771. Across Craven, just 194 CRDs were issued, while in Selby it was 398. In North Yorkshire, the total number issued was 3,425.
The use of CRDs has come under fire nationwide after it emerged these figures varied greatly from one county to the next.
In North Yorkshire, 17 per cent of offences were dealt with by caution while in some southern counties, that figure doubled. The average across England and Wales is 26 per cent.
The Magistrates’ Association, calling for greater transparency, has criticised the use of CRDs after it emerged 90,500 indictable only offences - crimes which were so serious they could only be heard at a crown court - were dealt with in this way.
“Compared to the national picture, North Yorkshire is doing well,” said Richard Monkhouse, deputy chairman of the Magistrates’ Association.
“If you go nicking in North Yorkshire, you are more likely to end up in court.
“But nationally, some of these are offences are very serious.
“It speeds things up but it doesn’t consider rehabilitation or support.”
The Secretary of State has now launched a thorough Government review to scrutinise the way “simple” cautions are issued.
But North Yorkshire Police, in guidelines issued for their use, insists CRDs are not a “soft option”, adding that cautions do have a “significant” impact on re-offending rates.
“It’s about placing the victim and the community at the hear to the process,” the guidelines say.”It’s about focusing on repairing the harm caused by the offender to the victim and the wider community.
“In essence, it’s about reducing offending and making our communities safer.”