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18/09/02 . ED JOHNSON . Associated Press . n/a  
Big Mac, fries and a burly police constable please  
Officers are being encouraged to eat at McDonald's and other fast food outlets while on duty to help cut street crime, police officials said on Wednesday.  

Police chiefs in Birmingham, central England, have issued officers with vouchers to eat at McDonald's, in an effort to increase their visibility and save time in walking or driving back to the staff canteen.

In nearby West Bromwich, officers have been encouraged to take their meal breaks in public places. The force said the move had been warmly received by local fast food outlets and supermarkets, who found that police cars parked on their premises helped deter thieves from operating in the area.

Prime Minister Tony Blair ( news - web sites)'s government, which has pledged that street crime will be under control by the end of September, said Wednesday it backed the initiative and was looking how it could be extended across the country.

An ICM opinion poll published Wednesday by the British Broadcasting Corp. found 53 percent of respondents thought street crime had risen in the past six months and 28 percent said they had never seen an officer on the beat in their area.

The government has dedicated 67 million pounds (dlrs 168 million since April to target 10 crime hotspots. Earlier this month, it announced that street crime had fallen by 14 percent since April in those areas.

Chief Superintendent Bruce Gilbert, who is based in West Bromwich, said the public had welcomed the initiative.

Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation Glen Smyth said he could see benefits in the plan, but added was not sure how police across the country would respond to it.

"Sometimes you just need five minutes to yourself, but you are not going to get that if you are on show when you take a meal break," he said. "But having said that, it is maybe advantageous to officers in some cases and I can see there will be benefits for the public too."

Most respondents to the opinion poll believed street crime had become worse despite the government's crackdown.

The poll suggested that 24 percent of people aged over 55 were too worried to leave their homes at night for fear of being mugged, and 32 percent of parents with children aged 10 to 16 were too worried to let them out after dark.

Responding to the poll, the Home Office said the government was committed to tackling street crime and said the latest figures indicated its crackdown had been a success.

A spokeswoman said, however, that a sustained and long-term drop in the offending rate was necessary before the effects were noticed by the public.

The ICM poll surveyed 1,009 people across the United Kingdom aged 14 and over Sept. 9-12. No margin of error was given.  
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