Government plans to release bobbies from their bureaucratic constraints and put them back on the beat have been welcomed by small shop owners.

Launching a consultation paper on police reform, Home Secretary Theresa May said she wanted to slash the number of hours that officers spent pen- pushing so they could get back "to the job they do so well cutting crime".

She added: "Officers have for too long been handcuffed by red tape, resulting in a service that is, frankly, not adapted to the modern age."

Her words have been well received by retailers in a month which has already been marred by crime (see panel, right).

Atul Karavadra, who runs a Londis in Blackthorn, Northampton, said a greater police presence would deter criminals. "We're lucky that there are only small incidents of shoplifting around here, but even that might lower should police be around constantly."

Mark Johnson of Celebrations Off Licence in Offerton, Stockport, agreed. "Currently, the police only seem to be in the area when they need something," he said.

However, retailers have questioned a proposal to boost the number of volunteer police community support officers (PCSOs) in service. "Criminals know that they have limited powers," Atul added.

May also vowed to give new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour by "moving beyond the ASBO".

The deadline for responses to the consultation is September 20.
catalogue of crime
July 18: A man holds staff at knifepoint before fleeing with cash at a c-store in Clifton, Hertfordshire July 22: Two men armed with guns rob a c-store in east Belfast July 24: A thief wielding a 12-inch knife forces an Edinburgh store owner to hand over money July 25: A shopkeeper is stabbed as he tries to stop two men robbing his store in the West Midlands July 26: A Wisbech trader is punched and his takings stolen on route to the bank in Cambridgeshire July 27: A female shop assistant is threatened with a knife at a One Stop in Binley Woods near Rugby, Warwickshire