You have not demonstrated any resistance or violence during your arrest or transportation. As a result the officers have not shut you in a holding cell. You have been sat on a bench and the officers have remained with you. The handcuffs were being used because of your escape risk. On the basis that you are now in a secure area the officers have removed them. You are waiting now to be called through to the charge desk to be booked into custody.
Why the delay? There isn’t always a delay. Sometimes you will walk straight in. However there are occasions where delay is inevitable and unavoidable. There may be 1, 2 or 3 Custody Sgts on duty but they may be all dealing with new arrivals. They may be listening to officers relaying the outcome of interviews and making disposal decisions or they may be booking someone into custody who has answered their bail. In addition to this there are occasions where the charge area is cleared of everybody who is non-police whilst a person is charged with sensitive offences. This list is not exhaustive and there can be many other reasons why you are delayed in the holding area.
Notwithstanding the above, the Custody Sgt/s, who have not seen you yet, are already responsible for your welfare and they want to get you into custody as quickly as they can. The buzzer finally sounds and you are called through with the arresting officer to the charge desk.
If the arresting officer is the person presenting you to the Custody Sgt then he will be expected to relay the circumstances of the arrest, in your presence, to the Sgt. If another officer has brought you then he too can relay the facts as given to him by the arresting officer. Forces that use police staff to escort will normally utilise a transportation form. This will be completed by the arresting officer. The Custody Sgt can then read the circumstances and relay them to you. This is to ensure you understand exactly why you have been arrested.
In this case the arresting officer outlines the circumstances. Once done the Custody Sgt should ensure you understand all that was said. This is often where many people will want to give their account and explain their innocence or how wrong the arrest is. The Sgt will inevitably try to stop you. This may seem rude but it is for your protection. You are under caution and so anything you say may be given in evidence. Secondly, you have not had any legal advice and may say something you will regret later. Any comments you do make should be recorded as unsolicited comments on the custody record and you will be invited to sign them as correct. In practical terms, short comments will be noted. If you launch into a long monologue and will not stop then it is not practical to record all that you said. In such cases the CCTV and audio recording at the desk can be relied upon if necessary.
Once the Custody Sgt is satisfied with the circumstances of the arrest and that you understand why you have been arrested he will need to determine if there is sufficient evidence to charge you. If there is not such evidence he should release you (with or without bail) or authorise your detention to allow evidence of that offence to be secured by means of questioning. This is formally accepting you into custody and keeping you there whilst we progress our investigation which can include obtaining statements and CCTV footage, conducting house searches, tracing other offenders and many other investigative options. Authorising detention in custody is detailed in PACE s37 and (1), (2) and (3) are most relevant at this point. The Custody Sgt must tell you why your detention is being authorised. The time your detention is authorised is important (see reviews coming in a later blog).
The Custody Sgt will then obtain from the officer the time and location of your arrest before moving on to take personal details from you. Name, date of birth, address, occupation etc. By far the next most important step for a custody officer is his risk assessment.
This is crucial as to how a detained person is looked after whilst they are in custody. Whilst being booked in, the Custody Sgt will be taking in information that pertains to you from a number of sources. The information passed by the officers and how you have behaved since arrest. Your behaviour before arrest as detailed by the witnesses. Your demeanour now, any warning or information signs that may be held on local computer systems and the police national computer. He will be looking to establish if he thinks you are drunk or under the influence of drugs. Whilst taking in all this information he will begin a formal risk assessment. This is a series of questions pertaining to your health, well-being and risk to yourself whilst in police custody. A selection of the questions can be as below.
- Do you have any illnesses or injuries
- Do you take any medication
- Do you have any mental health problems or depression
- Have you ever harmed yourself
- Are you dependent on drugs or alcohol
- Do you have special dietary needs or allergies
This list is not exhaustive and will vary from force to force but all must comply with chapter 3 of the Safer Detention and Handling of Persons in Custody (SDHP) guidance.
In order for a risk assessment to be effective the Custody Sgt needs to have confidence in the answers that are being given. Any question that results in anything other than ‘No’ will need further questions and clarification. Some charge desks now have private areas for each detained person to be booked in. Others are open. In either case some people are unwilling to be completely frank about any issues they may have. This is particularly the case when being asked to discuss any suicide or self harm attempts. Custody Sgts may need to be intrusive to get to the crux of any issues you may have.
Modern custody suites are safe, purpose built environments free of ligature points and danger areas. However, some detainees, notwithstanding the detail of any control measures implemented, are extremely ingenious in how to use even the smallest of things to harm themselves. Custody Sgts are therefore by definition always going to err on the side of safety if there is any doubt whatsoever. So what does this mean?
In this example we will assume you have no medical issues (diabetes, epilepsy, heart complaints, DVT’s) and take no medication. When asked about self harm and suicide you have denied any such history. During the process of booking you in the Sgt has had sight of your PNC record. This indicates a history of suicide attempts by overdose as recently as 8 months ago and that you are a regular self harmer by cutting your arms. You also show as being alcoholic. You are challenged about these risks and deny any issues. The Custody Sgt therefore has contrary information and needs to utilise any other information he has to establish how you should be cared for. Using a computerised custody record system allows Sgts to check back on any time you have previously spent in custody in that force. In your case the Sgt establishes that you were in custody only 2 months ago and at that time you tied your jumper around your neck. He also notes from the medical entries that you were seen by the nurse and treated with medication to control alcohol withdrawal.*
In a custody suite are cells. No secret there! However, some are different in that they have CCTV, a low bed for drunks (so they don’t fall off and hurt themselves) and some are ‘dry’ cells which mean they have no toilet or water facilities. The Custody Sgt has now reviewed all the answers you have given, compared this to known intelligence from a variety of sources and his own personal observations of you at the desk. He has to decide on the best cell to use, any control measures he should put in place and what level of observations you should be subjected to.
I could go through a whole variety of options, choices and scenarios now but that would be long-winded and very dull. We will stick with you. You are an alcoholic with no other medical conditions. You have a documented history on police systems of suicide attempts and self harming that you have resolutely denied during your booking in process. The Custody Sgt has also decided that you are not drunk or appear to be under the influence of alcohol. As an alcoholic this is a large red flag to the Sgt.
All detainees in police custody are subject to a level of observation. These are dictated by SHDP and a summary can be found on pages 81 and 82. The Sgt has decided that you will be subject to level 1 observations with checks every 30 minutes. He decides that based on alcoholism and self harm/suicide issues that you will be placed in a CCTV cell. This allows staff to monitor you in the cell using screens behind the charge desk. Also, as you have recently used your own clothes to harm yourself he decides that we should replace your own clothing with anti-tear quilted clothing. He has also decided that a clear cell policy will be adopted. Some forces provide sandwiches and pasties. Other forces provide microwave meals that come in plastic trays. Plastic forks or spoons are also provided. A clear cell policy is exactly that. Such items will be removed from the cell as soon as they have been finished with. This ensures they cannot be used to self harm with. In more serious cases the Custody Sgt may decided that meals should be supervised. In addition to all of the above, as an alcoholic, you should be referred to the nurse. This will allow your state of withdrawal to be assessed.
Before any of the risk assessment and care plan can be put into place the Sgt has to cover the most important area for you. Your rights.
Rights and Entitlements
Your rights are important to you. They are enshrined in PACE and they must be given. They can be delayed if you are drunk, violent or otherwise not fit to be given them. The Custody Sgt will hand you a document that sets out your rights. Some forces may still have their own variations of the notice of rights but the Home Office version is the definitive one and also comes in a number of languages.
If you look at the form there are several pages covering what you can expect whilst held in custody. The most important part though is the first page that covers your 3 basic rights that you can exercise at any time whilst in custody.
- Your right to an independent solicitor free of charge
- Your right to have somebody notified that you are at the police station
- Your right to consult the Codes of Practice book.
Let’s look at these in turn. The provision of a solicitor is free of charge whilst in custody. You can nominate a solicitor you know or elect for the duty solicitor. The duty solicitor scheme is a rota serviced by several local firms. You can nominate a solicitor from outside the local area. For example, if you live in London and always use a London firm but have been arrested in Bristol there is nothing stopping you nominating your London firm. So long as they are on the duty scheme and are prepared to travel without causing considerable delay to you being held in custody then it should be ok. If you have solicitor/barrister/firm on retainer or simply wish to have a specific person, then you can also ask for them but if they are not on the duty scheme then the expense falls to you. The right to legal advice remains at all times whilst you are in custody and you are reminded about it at regular intervals and at certain key times.
There are occasions when interviews may go ahead without a solicitor even when you have requested one but these circumstances are rare and beyond the scope of this blog. One common area though where the investigation will continue without legal advice is the intoximeter procedure for drink drive cases. A drivers alcohol level may be going up or down and there is a need to secure the alcohol content evidence. As such, we will not simply wait whilst a solicitor is contacted and then calls back to custody as this can take some time during which vital evidence may be lost.
Those who have never been in custody before often ask me if I think they should have, or need a solicitor. The standard and expected response is similar to, “I cannot advise you either way but if you want one I can get one for you and they will be free of charge”. As you can see this is rather unhelpful. I generally ask them; “Have you been in custody before? Do you know what you are doing? Do you think you can manage in custody without the advice of someone who does and will do so for free?” This generally does the trick and most people will then elect for a solicitor. I covered some of these issues in a blog in 2011.
In this case you know what your rights are and elect for a local solicitor you have used many times before. In order to facilitate this a call will be lodged with the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC). They will in turn notify the relevant solicitor who will then call custody to be updated on the case and be able to speak to you.
Now we cover your right to a phone call. Right? Well in fact no, WRONG. No matter how many times you’ve seen it on TV and films you are not ‘entitled’ to a phone call. Your right is to have someone told you are at the police station. This means that to comply with the law we simply contact the person you nominate and tell them. However, you may be able to speak to the person you nominate yourself at the discretion of the Custody Sgt. This is generally what will happen. However, you will not normally be allowed to speak to anyone who is a witness to the offence being investigated.
There is also an opportunity for the police to deny you this notification right altogether. This is called being held ‘incommunicado’. Any request for this by an investigating officer must be authorised by an Inspector. This is normally to allow us to conduct house searches without you tipping off the occupants so that any other stolen property/drugs or evidence can be disposed of before we arrive. It could also be that we are attempting to locate other offenders and such a call may cause them to go to ground.
In our case you have asked for your mother to be told. It’s actually quite surprising how many people want their mum telling. No matter how old they are! The officers have no objections and no house searches are being considered. In such circumstances the Custody Sgt will generally allow you to make this call at the desk once the booking in procedure is complete. Occasionally, for your privacy and the fact the charge area is busy, the Sgt may allow a detention officer to take a cordless phone to the cell with you so that the call can be made there. All calls are supervised and can be terminated at any time.
Further calls are at the discretion of the Custody Sgt, how busy the suite is and how long you may have been in custody.
Finally we have the Codes of Practice book. This is not an easy read. Some people relish the opportunity and will diligently read as much of it as they can. Others sometimes see the size of it and realise they’d rather not. The Notice of Rights and Entitlements gives a good outline of what you should expect whilst in custody. This book goes into much more detail and whilst all entirely relevant you are unlikely to take enough in whilst held in custody to be able to adequately represent yourself. Another good reason to have a solicitor? You elect not to have a copy to read.
It is important to remember that all these rights are exercisable at any time. If you decline all three and after an hour or so languishing in a cell you change you mind then you simply need to tell the staff. The Custody Sgt will then ensure your requests are met.
You are now booked into custody. We know who you are, where you currently live and what your occupation is. We know what offence you have been arrested for and you know why we are keeping you in custody. We have established any medical and personal safety issues during our risk assessment and established an individual care plan for you. You have been given your rights and exercised two of them.
During your time at the desk you will have been searched one more time. This is to ensure you have no further articles upon you that may be evidence of an offence or items you may use to harm yourself or another. All your property is recorded on the custody record and you will be invited to check and sign that it is correct.
You will now be taken to a cell by one of the detention officers and this is where this blog ends and ‘Locked Up #3’ will start.
* Alcoholics are common. However, the risk and danger they present in police custody should never be underestimated. Severe alcohol withdrawal can quickly lead to death.
It should be noted that this blog is written from the perspective of my experience where Custody Sgts book in all detainees. However, in some forces they use Detention Officers for this role. This is quite lawful as the only time the Custody Sgt MUST be involved in the booking in process is to authorise detention. I am not a fan of the latter but thats a blog for another day.