Nearly 20 serving officers’ jobs could be saved by increasing the amount of cases dealt with on the street, claimed Greater Manchester Police today.
A report conducted by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates found that across six forces in the country, the number of cases dealt with informally shot up from one in 200 to one in nine since 2008.
And GMP said that 19 full-time positions could be saved each year as the force would benefit from an additional £850,000 if the scheme was utilised across the force.
But the report found a wide variation in how forces used the government’s scheme – creating a post code lottery for the way crime is handled.
"This could mean that people are being treated differently depending on where they live or what criminal justice agency they are involved with," the report warned.
"This could lead to the perception of unfairness."
The amount of cases that resulted in the offender being charged remained at 57% for the last four years – while the use of ‘informal resolutions’ increased as the number of out-of-court settlements fell from 42% to 32%.
The inspectors also found that two in five of the 630 officers and police community support officers polled believed that charging an offender is more effective at controlling justice and preventing them from reoffending.
The report added: "More work is needed in the area of informal resolutions to establish the longer term impacts on victim satisfaction and reoffending rates."
And GMP claimed that an arrested person spends an average of eight hours and 45 minutes in custody – yet more than 80% of the 132 cases did not even need to be arrested.
But the report warned that individual circumstances must be looked at when deciding to deal with a crime on the street or arrest the offender.
Previous convictions and offences, the type of offence and seriousness of the matter should all bare relevance to the arrest – while all forces should act the same way as an offender in one area could be dealt with informally, yet in another they could be arrested.
GMP no offences are barred from being handled informally, but in Norfolk, police must arrest those suspected of sex offences, or knife and domestic offences.
The Merseyside, North Wales, Sussex and West Midlands forces were also studied for the report.
The review - by the inspectorates of the constabulary, prisons, probation and Crown Prosecution Service - also found that in more than a fifth (14) of 66 cases studied, the informal resolution was inappropriate.
This was "usually because the victim had not consented to the action taken (where this was a requirement), or the circumstances did not constitute a criminal offence", the review said.
Inconsistencies were also found in restorative justice approaches – where victims of crime can share how they were affected in a support group and, in some cases, the offender themselves.
But Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said all victims should be offered the choice of restorative justice and should be allowed to choose what is right for them.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Restorative justice gives victims the chance to express the impact the crime has had on their lives.
“Research shows overwhelming support for its use, with 85% of victims who have taken part finding the experience beneficial.
"Making criminals see the consequences of their actions can also play an effective part in reducing reoffending in nearly a quarter of all cases.
"That's why we have just invested more than £1 million into expanding its use and we have launched neighbourhood justice pilots in a number of areas.”