Number of police arrests halves in a decade, new figures show

The number of arrests made by police in England and Wales has almost halved in a decade, new figures reveal.

Forces held 779,660 individuals in the year to the end of March 2017 - compared to nearly 1.5 million in 2006/07.

The tally registered in 2016/17 was down by 12% on the previous 12 months, and it is the lowest number for an equivalent period in data records going back to 2001/02.

The figures come at a time when police are recording rising numbers of crimes in categories including violent, knife and sex offences.

Violent crime offences in England and Wales
Violent crime offences in England and Wales

A Home Office report detailing the findings says there are a number of possible factors which may have contributed to the dip.

One possible reason linked to the fall is the increased use of a process known as voluntary attendance. This is where an individual goes to a police station or any other place where a constable is present without having been arrested, for the purpose of assisting with an investigation.

The report adds: "There is also evidence of greater use of other outcomes, such as community resolutions, as part of efforts to reduce the number of young people entering custody."

Earlier this year a watchdog assessment suggested that "resourcing pressures" could also be a factor in the reduction.

That paper - published in March - cited the example of centralisation of custody suites, saying it could mean officers "may have to travel greater distances to take someone to custody and may be less likely to do this on a busy shift".

It also suggested there may have been an impact from "cultural reasons", such as a push to give officers more discretion in how they do the job as opposed to centrally set targets.

In the year ending March 2017, over a third of all arrests by police in England and Wales were for violence against the person offences (37%). The next most common offence was theft, which accounted for 22% of all arrests.

Offences recorded by police in England and Wales
Offences recorded by police in England and Wales

The findings come at a time of mounting concern over the levels of some types of criminality. Last week separate data revealed that a surge in violent crime has helped push the number of offences recorded by police past the five million mark for the first time in a decade.

Forces in England and Wales registered a total of 5.2 million offences in the year to the end of June - a 13% rise on the previous 12 months.

This included 1.2 million "violence against the person" crimes - a broad category including murder, assault, harassment and stalking.

The data also showed increases in the numbers of recorded knife-related crimes, thefts, frauds and sex offences.

A National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) spokesman said the decline in the number of arrests reflects some "key changes" in policing in recent years.

He said: "Firstly, total recorded crime has steadily fallen over the same period and in 2016 was at its lowest level ever since records began which to a degree explains the fall in arrests.

"At the same time, the criteria for police to arrest a suspect were strengthened in 2012 and so many suspect interviews now take place without having to place someone under arrest.

"Particularly when dealing with vulnerable members of society, like children, the police service has made important progress by using a more proportionate approach to arrest than in the past.

"However, we remain committed to using arrests where necessary for serious crimes in addition to our roles in safeguarding vulnerable people and building resilience against rapidly changing crime and threats such as cyber-enabled crime."