Even if I say so myself, I’m quite a nice guy and it is always a pleasure to meet people with whom I have shared a dialogue with across the internet. Yet there is one place where I don’t want to meet any of you. Locked up.
Whilst I’ve blogged on many topics it was recently pointed out to me by @solihullpolice that I hadn’t done an “end to end” custody experience blog. What you will experience if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
For the purpose of this blog you have been arrested for a theft offence and to avoid any lengthy debate about Code G we will assume that the necessity test has been met and the arrest is lawful. With that last sentence we could be starting off on the wrong foot. In short, the police can now arrest for any offence at all but it has to be ‘necessary’. More information on code G can be found here. Can we also assume that ‘he’ also means ‘she’ throughout?
Having given you the bad news the arresting officer has to make a choice. You may be compliant and present no risk. You may not. Ultimately the officer has to make a decision based on everything he knows about you on whether to handcuff you or not. You are compliant but information on our national computer indicates you may try to escape. The officer decides you are a risk and elects to handcuff you to the rear. This means your hands are behind your back, the backs of your hands face each other and your thumbs are uppermost.
If this is a large supermarket then you may then be able to exit the building with the officer by the less public staff entrance. However, if this is not available, not practicable or the store doesn’t have one then you will be walked through the store. Not the best circumstances to be in when your neighbour happens to be buying their groceries at the same time!
The officer may choose to keep you in the store for now or may walk you out and sit you in his car. In any event, at some point during this process you will be searched. This is to make sure that you have no further stolen property, no items that may be evidence of another offence or articles you may use to harm yourself or others. These powers can be found in PACE s32. The officer then has to make a decision about transport.
The officer could be on foot but has no doubt arrived using some method of transport. He could be on a bike, using a car or in a van. There are many variations. Some forces (North Wales Police) have cars fitted with a secure pod in the back. This is not dissimilar to US patrol cars where the person has a seat in the rear but a cage/plastic pod prevents them from escaping or interfering with the driver. Some forces have vans (like this Metropolitan Police vehicle) that have custom built cages inside them. These have a bench type seat upon which to sit and there is normally a means for you to be able to see and communicate with the driver or officers in the front. The van may be driven by a police officer but in some cases may be driven by a member of the police staff or a contractor to whom the role has been outsourced. Many officers will also use their patrol cars to convey you to the custody suite.
The next consideration for the officer, before deciding on a method of transport, is to conduct a risk assessment based against the transportation policy of his force. Considerations will include, your health and wellbeing and any medical issues you may have that will affect your safety in the vehicle. He also has to consider your state of sobriety. If drunk you are at a greater risk of many medical issues and positional asphyxia. Combine this with an overweight person and the risk factors increase considerably. Officers also have to consider your behaviour and whether or not you are under the influence of any drugs. Such matters again can give cause for greater concern such as excited delirium. The officer may well work through a medical risk assessment with you to satisfy himself that you are safe to transport. Once complete, the officer then has to consider the distance to be travelled, his safety and all other factors that may affect the journey. If you are under the influence of drink or drugs then the officer is likely to consider it necessary to have an officer, in addition to the driver, to travel with you who can monitor you throughout the journey.
In our case the officer has asked for van to collect you. He is not comfortable taking you in his car on his own. He is mindful of the death of Pc Joe Carroll and has determined this is a risk he is not prepared to take no matter how compliant you appear to be. The van subsequently arrives and you are transferred to it from the back of the police car. You are sober and don’t appear to be under the influence of any drugs. You have not disclosed any medical issues that give him cause for concern. He decides that you are fit to be transported by the van and you don’t need an additional officer. He relays all this information to the driver of the van who must agree with his risk assessment before accepting responsibility for you. The driver agrees but asks that as the custody suite is 20 miles away there is an increased risk and would be more comfortable if the arresting officer followed behind in his vehicle. With an agreed plan the two vehicles depart for custody.
Arrival at custody
Traditionally, police custody suites were part of the main police station for an area. When I first joined the custody suite was nothing like what we have today. The entrance to custody was the side door of the police station. Vans simply drove into the car park (same car park the public used), reversed into an opening near the door and then moved people from van to building. There was no secure area for the van. If the arrested person managed to get free of officers they would be free to escape from the car park hotly pursued by embarrassed officers. On one occasion a traffic officer in a pursuit gave a commentary that ended with “Left onto High St toward the police station. Left left into the police station car park. Yes he has stopped outside custody and given himself up.” Anyway.. back to today.
Most forces custody suites are still at their main stations. However, many are also moving toward larger centralised custody suites like the Martlesham Investigation Centre operated by Suffolk Police. These are modern facilities that are much safer than the ageing properties some forces still own.
Your arrival at the suite will without doubt entail entrance into a secure van dock. The van will arrive, drive into the dock and large shutter gates will close behind you. The dock may only accommodate one vehicle but newer facilities may be able to take several. You have arrived here in a van so have not had any view of the journey or your arrival. This can be somewhat disorientating. The van dock is a secure area that allows you to be transferred from the vehicle and into the custody suite. The escorting officer will now release you from the van and walk you into the holding area. Access to the holding area will be controlled by staff inside the suite. Your movements and the actions of the officers are now likely to be subject to CCTV coverage and possibly audio. The holding area is a space where you will be held until the custody sgt is ready to accept you. You may be the only person waiting, or, if busy, there may be several others before you. The holding area will have some holding cells. These are not proper cells but simply small spaces with a locking door with windows or cages. This allows officers to monitor you whilst waiting and also allow you to be kept in one place. It may also be for your safety if there are several suspects waiting. As you can imagine, two people who have been fighting with each other on the street may wish to continue when put in the same room together. You may have remained handcuffed during your journey. Subject to your behaviour now, they may be removed before being placed in a holding cell.
As you drove through the gates to the custody suite, the clock that governs your maximum of 24hrs in custody began ticking. Although you haven’t seen the custody sgt you are now his responsibility. If the sgt/s are busy and not able to bring you in promptly they should enquire with the escorting officers as to whether there are any issues with you that need immediate attention. All you can do now is wait until the custody sgt is ready to have you brought to the charge desk to be booked in.