Police are targeting the law-abiding middle classes over minor misdemeanours so they can meet government targets, a report claims.
Officers are having to put Home Office targets before serving the public and are becoming increasingly alienated from ordinary people as a result.
Members of the public find officers to be “rude” and accuse them of neglecting their duties and failing to respond to reports of crime.
The report, by the think-tank Civitas, said political interference meant incidents that might previously have been regarded as innocuous were now treated as crimes.
Police performance is measured in “sanction detections” which means officers have detected or cleared a case by charging someone, issuing a penalty notice or giving a caution. Many officers are expected to complete a certain number each month.
Arresting or fining a normally law-abiding person for a trivial offence is a good way of achieving the target and pleasing the Home Office.
“The police seem intent on criminalising those whose offences, if they can be regarded as offences at all, are trivial,” the report said.
“They are accused of concentrating on easy-to-deal with offending like speeding, while the real criminals seem to be getting away with it.”
One case was highlighted in which a 19-year-old foreign student was arrested, detained for five hours and cautioned for holding open the door of a lift in a London Underground station.
The report said: “In a city where knife crime is exploding and the public are crying out for more police on the streets three officers are tied up for half the night arresting a young man for holding a lift door open with his foot.”
Harriet Sergeant, the journalist who wrote the report, said the target culture meant police were less likely to concentrate on complex crimes.
It also meant officers exercised less discretion when dealing with a member of the public.
Performance-related pay bonuses of between £10,000 and £15,000 a year for commanders who manage frontline officers partly depend on reaching targets for sanction detections.
The report said: “In order to meet targets police are now classifying incidents as crimes that would previously have been dealt with informally, classified differently or ignored.”
One officer interviewed for the study said he warned his own teenage son to take extra care at the end of the month when police are looking to fill their detection quota.
Another said: “We are bringing more and more people to justice but they are the wrong people.”
Complaints against the police have risen and much of the increase comes from law-abiding, middle-class, middle-aged and retired people who no longer feel the police are on their side, the report said.
It called for an end to targets and proposed a local tax to pay for policing, with commanders selected through local government or direct elections.
Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “This is a desperate but not surprising indictment of Labour’s red tape, target-driven culture which has distorted police priorities and undermined the relationship between the police and the public.
“At the same time, bureaucracy has tied officers to their desks and kept them off the streets.”
By Nick Allen
Last Updated: 1:17PM BST 30/05/2008