By Brook Sabin
Police are rolling out a controversial new policy which means drunks, cannabis smokers and other minor offenders may be given warnings instead of being sent to court.
Police say it will reduce the court backlog by tens of thousands each year allowing them to focus on serious offenders, but others say the police are going soft.
"This initiative enables police officers to spend less time on paperwork, less time appearing in court and more time out on the street preventing offences and focusing on more serious offending," says Supt Bill Searle.
The system has been trialled in Auckland for the past 10 months. Of the 48,000 arrested over that time, nearly 4500 ended up with just a warning.
Police showed 3 News how it works. After the offender has been locked up, if they're over 17 and the offence carries less than six months' imprisonment a senior officer has the discretion to issue a warning, which will be kept on their record.
"We would argue this is a significant deterrent," says Supt Searle. "We know from similar approaches overseas a large proportion of people who receive a pre-charge warning never reoffend."
The system rolls out nationwide, from this week. Eventually, that could mean around 20,000 less offenders each year are congesting the courts.
But lawyer and former ACT MP Stephen Franks, who has studied New York's 'broken windows' crackdown on minor offences, says this scheme could backfire - big time.
"We know that offenders tend to be gamblers," he says. "If there's a prospect they won't pay any price, the research is very clear there's more offending."
Police dispute that, and say so far none of the offenders warned in their trial have reoffended.