When I joined the police many years ago we had a basic fleet of vehicles for the use of “section”. We had the ubiquitous panda in various guises; Peugeot 309, Metro and Fiesta but predominantly the Ford Escort. Each sub division also had a van. We did have a Sherpa at one point that was truly awful but the mainstay was the trusty SWB Ford Transit. This was a busy inner city sub division with 6 car beats and the double crewed van providing back up to the cars and the transportation of all, as we called then, prisoners.
The vans were basic and had no cages inside. Just a wooden bench seat down each side. In the back would also be the spare wheel and often the jack and brace! We would often sit in the back with the detainee whilst being driven to custody. Drunken or violent arrestees would be dumped in the back unaccompanied. A short sharp braking action, deliberate or not would send the drunken prisoner sliding down the van and thumping into the wooden bulkhead. Funny at the time but with hindsight not best ever.
It wasn’t long before things began to change. Cages were soon introduced and prisoner transportation became safer for us and the detainee.
I eventually left section for traffic. When I arrested somebody the van was called. Nobody EVER got in the back of my car. There was always much debate on the unit and at the Transport User Groups about the ideal traffic car. Everybody had a different view. Humberside even created a demo video that went around other forces proclaiming the excellence of the flat four Subaru Impreza. But where one car had brilliant performance it lacked space for kit and vice versa.
I now work for another force. When I transferred we didn’t have standard vans for routine use. We had LWB carriers for public order serials but nothing for general prisoner escort. We now have a handful of Transits across the force. They are a good spec’ and have CCTV cameras installed. The screens are set up in an integral rear view mirror that is otherwise redundant. Slick! The control unit is missing but I will optimistically consider it away for repair. The drivers say the two cell set up is good but if the detainee is violent you can’t get them in because the gates are too narrow. They say they need a single cell with a single wider gate. But this opens up a bigger space for the dp to flop about in. So the ideal patrol vehicle and escort vehicle is still eluding us.
All this said there is no doubt that transportation in vans is by far the safest for officers and detainees.
On my last set of nights a single crewed officer came into custody with a detainee. He had driven him over in a standard Volvo T5 having picked him up from a neighbouring force custody unit some 65 miles away. As you can imagine I went a little ballistic. Who had made this decision? What risk assessment had been conducted? Why wasn’t a van used? Why did he not politely tell the requester to get lost? He is younger in service than I and did as he was told. But I know I would have refused point blank.
I am now in debate on this very issue with command. Traditionally in the police we review a situation on “what did happen” not “what could have happened”. Therefore, as the detainee arrived safely the decision was sound. I wholeheartedly disagree.
I imagine the officer needing the toilet. I imagine the officer suddenly being taken ill. I imagine the detainee reacting totally out of character against previous knowledge of him and doing something stupid. There are plenty of things that can go wrong in a car like this. Especially at 70mph, in the dark, on a motorway, out of force, single crewed with a prisoner in the back seat cuffed to the front. It beggars belief this was allowed to happen. The dangers are obvious and we must learn from our sad experiences;
PC Carroll – Notrhumberland
So why was the decision taken? I may never know. But what I do know is that we are understaffed now. This is before the reality of 20% cuts start to hit home. Having done a straw poll of my tweeps last night my force is not alone in this area. Many of you are escorting on your own and putting yourselves at risk. Simply because there is not the staff to resource it properly.
I repeatedly find myself being asked to bail someone before interview. Simply because the detainee needs to go to hospital and there is nobody to escort him/her. Nothing like invoking public confidence.
We in the police are in a unique place. We are a disciplined service and can be asked to do almost anything. We can have our roll changed at the drop of a hat. This makes a flexible and malleable workforce. You can’t do this with police staff. You can’t pull a wages clerk out of HQ and out them on the front desk. The office of constable is the bedrock of British policing and the key to making it work. Over the years we have continued to make it work but how long before it all goes horribly wrong? The thin blue line is getting stretched taut. Elastic can stretch but it can be stretched so far that it never resumes it’s shape. It can also snap. The public and officers are at increased risk. There are some lambasting the current advertising campaign by the Police Federation. It is claimed the adverts are irresponsible. I honestly believe these critics are wrong. The public need to know what we are holding up and that we are crumbling. We are holding the burden we have, even making good progress in places but as our legs tremble with exhaustion we are asked to do all we do now but on one leg. You can’t keep pulling bricks out of the dam and expect to never lose any water.
The transportation issue is widespread. Every force is feeling the pinch. You will never self escort again after one assault. So why put up with it? Stand up for your safety. Many years ago at a firearms incident the Inspector asked me and a colleague to drive past the scene in a fully liveried car because the ARV was miles away. We duly told him to do it himself! He declined his own offer. Refuse to do those things that put you at unnecessary risk. This is not insubordination. It is common sense. The more we lower our standards and compromise our safety, the more likely we are to be viewed as coping. The net result is not 20% cuts. It’s more like 40% cuts.
We are being undermined, the public don’t see it and the government are only interested in saving money. Unless we stand our ground, accept no compromise for safety and refuse to take risks to “make it work” then things can only get worse.