Harassment notices 'may be misused'
There is a "clear danger" that harassment warnings may be used inappropriately by the police, a group of MPs has warned.
Police Information Notices (PINs), also known as Harassment Warning Notices, are issued where there are allegations of harassment, but they do not form any kind of formal legal action.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has warned PINs could be incorrectly used when risk assessments and investigations are not undertaken sufficiently.
The group of MPs want police forces to provide further training to officers on the appropriate use of PINs.
In addition, the Committee said the lack of an appeal process for PINs can feel unfair to some recipients.
Recipients of the notices should be given the opportunity to give their account of the situation before a police decision is made but this is not happening in many cases, the MPs said.
Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Committee, said: "Tens of thousands of PINs are issued by the police every year.
"Although a useful tool for stopping harassment, meeting the needs of the victim and addressing problematic behaviour, there is a clear danger that they may be used inappropriately if they are not done in conjunction with good risk assessment and sufficient investigation.
"The lack of any procedure for appealing against a PIN can feel very unfair to recipients.
"Police forces should provide further training to officers on the use of PINs.
"It is also vital that intended recipients of a PIN are given the opportunity to give their account of the situation before a police decision is made.
"The failure to share information on PINs between police forces strongly undermines Chief Constables' ability to assess their force's usage.
"Each force should publish the number of PINs issued on their websites on a monthly basis.
"The Home Office should collate and publish annual data about the number of PINs issued by each force."
There is no formal police procedure for issuing PINs and no set time limit during which they have effect.
They are not formal police cautions and signing one does not imply that the alleged harassment has taken place.
However, the police may use them in future legal proceedings.
Data on PINs issued by police services in England and Wales is not collected centrally and is owned by the individual police force that issued the notice.
In the past year, around 900 PINs were issued in Greater Manchester, 1,500 in Sussex, and 2,900 in Thames Valley.
National Lead for Stalking and Harassment Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: "As recognised by the Home Affairs Committee, a Police Information Notice (PIN) is a useful tool for helping to stop harassment and meet the needs of victims.
"However, to work effectively and safely they must be used correctly and forces constantly deliver and refresh training to front line staff to ensure their use is appropriate and proportionate.
"This includes recent police and CPS protocol that makes it clear when PINs should be used. New guidance, that will shortly be issue by the College of Policing, will further reinforce training requirements across all forces.
"Appropriate use should mitigate the need for appeal as they work to inform police of when behaviour could amount to harassment rather than holding any legal standing in their own right.
"I support the proposal of publishing the number of PINs issued and will work with forces to agree a process for this, including frequency of release."