Food Vouchers For Criminals: Staffordshire Police Commissioner Stops Controversial Scheme

Police officers found a novel way to deal with with criminals - by handing them food vouchers.

But the practice has now been stopped because it sends out "mixed messages".

Staffordshire Police confirmed seven vouchers had recently been given to "hard-pressed" thieves.

But Matthew Ellis, the county's elected Police and Crime Commissioner, stepped in and ordered a suspension of the scheme.

The vouchers could be redeemed at foodbanks

Ellis said the handouts were "well-intentioned" but risked sending "mixed messages about offending".

He has now asked Staffordshire Police's chief constable to carry out "an urgent review" into how the police work with other agencies "to help people who are in dire need of support who turn to criminality out of desperation."

But the force said that out of 5,833 dealt with since the scheme began in March, just seven received a voucher.

A police spokesman said officers used "professional judgment" in giving the hand-outs, describing the recipients as

"some of the most hard-pressed individuals" who had stolen for need rather than profit or personal gain.

The police's actions have been backed by a member of the county's crime and police panel, who said frontline officers should be trusted to use their "discretion" during an unprecedented period of hardship for many households.

Councillor Janine Bridges said: "If somebody has committed a serious offence then I am absolutely in favour of proper punishment to fit the crime. But you have got to allow professionals to make these decisions and be empowered because they are the ones at the frontline dealing with the issues on a daily basis."

Staff at agencies across Stoke-on-Trent, including the Jobcentre, social services, and Citizens Advice Bureau, had also been given food vouchers which could be handed out "at their discretion" and be redeemed in any of the area's nine food banks, she said.

"The police have only given out seven since March so there is no sense they are not being handed out with anything except the greatest amount of consideration, which is as it should be," Bridges said.

Last month police said a shoplifter who stole food received a caution and was only then given a food voucher because of his particular circumstances.

"On this occasion the man arrested made an honest and frank disclosure that he had stolen a small amount of food because he was hungry. He had not stolen it for profit or gain and handed the stolen food back straight away," a force spokesman said.

"A caution was therefore deemed the most appropriate outcome to this theft.

"The custody sergeant realised that this individual met the strict criteria for a food bank voucher which provides emergency food and, as a result, he was handed one."

In a statement, Ellis said: "This is a local scheme which I was unaware of.

"While it's obviously well-intentioned and even pragmatic, I'm concerned a single process which includes being arrested for a criminal offence and then receiving vouchers on release after a caution sends mixed messages about offending."

Staffordshire Police said: "Since March this year 5,833 people have been dealt with at our northern custody facility in Stoke-on-Trent and of those, seven, given their circumstances, were deemed eligible to be given food bank vouchers.

"These were some of the most hard-pressed individuals that our officers had seen and they used their professional judgment to give them food vouchers provided by a local charity.

"This positive intervention shows how the force works with local partners in the voluntary sector to help those in need."