Locked Up #3

You are booked in the detention officer has searched you and you are now taken to a cell.

Cell Placement and Tactics

Based on your risk assessment a cell with CCTV has been allocated. You also will be provided with safety clothing because of your self harm/suicide risks. The detention officer, or one of his colleagues, is likely to have obtained the clothing already and have it in the cell before you get there.

Now arrives an awkward moment. We want all your clothing. Not just outer clothing. Every last bit of it. It’s rather pointless to do a detailed search, identify any risks and then leave you with underwear that has elastic in that you may use to harm yourself. This may sound unlikely but as stated in the earlier posts some detainees are ingenious in what they can utilise to harm themselves. You are informed of the request. From my perspective I generally explain this to the person before they go to the cell. Either way the detention officers will make the request of you. What do you do? So far you have been compliant. If the Custody Sgt has explained his rationale fully you may simply comply. The officers will remain with you whilst you change. We want to make sure that anything you could have concealed in your own clothing (that we have missed) is not transferred to your hands, cell area or new clothing. It is embarrassing for some but is always same gender and officers and staff will respect your dignity as much as they can.

Alternatively you may object to such a request. Staff are very experienced at using the power of persuasion. They will talk to you and try to obtain your compliance. This is by far the easiest solution for all. Should you resolutely refuse and all avenues to gain compliance have been exhausted then force can be used. This is the same tactic used when a drunken, fighting, spitting person comes in who can’t be booked in, risk assessed or given rights. They are taken straight to a cell and as no risk assessment can be done clothing will be forcibly removed.

The process involves a number of officers taking you to the floor (face down) and restraining you whilst we remove your clothing. Yes, I’m rather sad to have to admit as a chap that I’ve helped far more 20130423-211454.jpgmen from their clothing than women!! Moving swiftly on… The tactic concludes with you being pinned down by one officer who then leaves the cell in a way that you are unable to retaliate in any way before the cell door is closed and secure.

In your case you comply. You hand over your clothing and put on the safety clothing. The detention officers will have checked the cell and the mattress before you occupied it. They will also check to make sure the cell call is working. This is a system that allows you to alert custody staff that you need to speak to them. Traditionally this used to be a buzzer and light system that necessitated a walk to the cell. Modern facilities now have intercom systems and detainees can be spoken to from a control point.

In your cell is a toilet, a small hand basin built into the wall and a mattress.Staff may also have provided you with a blanket. This will be of a similar style to the material used in the clothing and be anti-tear. The toilet is likely to be stainless steel, without a proper seat and a button flush on the wall. Certainly no chain to pull. The cistern will be on the other side of the wall.

Most detention officers will also explain at this point when the meal times are and offer to get you a drink. The cell door is then closed with a reassuring clunk and you are left alone to ponder your predicament.

Medical Care

Every force has a requirement to have a medical provision for all persons held in custody. Some forces operate on a call out basis and the FME ( Fore Medical Examiner) is called out when needed. However, custody suites across the country, like mine, are getting bigger and as a result embedded healthcare on-site is becoming the norm. 20130424-215727.jpg Some suites may still operate a call out process but the service is now often provided by a medical contractor. The Met employ their own medical staff. Across the country this is all likely to change again soon but that’s not a matter for this blog. Our medical provision is on-site with us 24/7 so a nurse or Dr is always available.

In your case the Sgt has identified a number of issues. The self harm matter is one but more important now is your alcoholism. You have not told us anything but recent history shows you have alcohol issues. In addition the Sgt has determined you are sober. This can mean one of two things; you are clean and not struggling with alcohol anymore or you are sobering up and reaching a stage where withdrawal may occur. The former is good news but the latter is a very dangerous state and can be fatal.

Whilst you have been taken to the cell the Sgt will have completed a care plan which is detailed on the custody record. This covers his observations from the risk assessment in more detail and what actions he intends to put in place for your care. We have to make a phone call to a control centre to book the nurse but she/he is on-site. In your case you will have a general health screen with the nurse but you will also be subject to scoring on the AWS.

Medical practitioners use scoring methods regularly to assess a persons condition. The GCS (Glasgow Coma Scale) is one example. The AWS is an alcohol withdrawal scale. There is a similar one for drug withdrawal. A lot of useful information about alcohol withdrawal can be found here

The nurse is ready to see you so a detention officer comes to the cell and invites you to the medical room. You will generally be asked some basic questions and asked to confirm your name and GP. The nurse will then discuss any issues or medical problems you may have. She/he will also take blood pressure and other basic screening tests as well as making observations for the AWS.

Once the nurse is finished you will be returned to your cell by a detention officer. Our nurses update the custody record directly but will normally come and speak to the custody sgt first and give a verbal account of their view. Their opinion is crucial and not to be ignored. The nurse may agree or disagree with the Sgts care plan but will make recommendations based on their examination.

This can be as simple as asking for cell visits to increase to every 15 minutes or close proximity (level 4) observations at the cell door by a detention officer or police officer. It can also be that a ambulance is requested to take to hospital immediately. Either way, it would be a brave, and in my view, foolish, custody sgt who ignored the advice of a nurse or Dr.

The nurse has assessed you. You are showing very mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal but nothing you need medication for at the moment. The nurse is happy with the care plan and asks for any change in your condition to be reported to her immediately. She also says she will review you again in 6 hours (if still in custody).

Many regular customers will arrive in custody and make immediate demands to see the Dr. It’s as though there is an invisible ray at the entrance door that brings all their ailments to the forefront. All the ailments that weren’t bothering them whilst burgling someone’s house! Either way, if a detainee asks to see a medical person we should allow this to happen unless the nurse would be at risk of violence.

An example would be a drug user. They often arrive in custody and immediately ask to see the nurse. When asked why they may say “I’m withdrawing and I haven’t had my methadone script for 3 days”. 20130424-220021.jpgThere is a tendency to think “Well whose fault is that then?” Drug withdrawal is extremely unpleasant but in most cases it is unlikely to lead to death. We may treat drug withdrawal with DF’s or diazepam. However for the new arrival there is a caveat. No medication is generally issued until someone has been in custody for 6 hours. This is because we do not know what medication or drugs they have taken just before arrest. There is a risk of overdose if the nurse issued strong medication to treat withdrawal on top of anything else the DP has taken. This often leads to much shouting and upset.

Some detainees may arrive with their own methadone in a bottle with their name on. This is becoming less common now as many pharmacies require the person to take the medication in their presence. In any event, our policy is to not allow them to have it. We do not know if the medication is genuine or some sort of concoction and the risk is therefore too high. The only exception is pregnant ladies where there is serious risk to the baby. In such cases they will be sent to hospital.

As you are ok the care plan created by the Sgt stands and you now have to wait for the interviewing officers. During this time your solicitor may make contact. She will be allowed to speak to you, answer any questions you may have, reassure you and advise you on the processes that will follow.

Initial Investigation

In your case you have been arrested at the store at the time of committing the offence. The arresting officer followed the van to custody and then brought you before the custody sgt. That officer has now left custody and has gone to take relevant statements from store staff and to obtain a copy of the CCTV.

The officer also has already considered your criminal history and decided a house search (s18 of PACE) is not necessary on this occasion. The officer also needs to know if there are any other matters you are wanted for. This can be matters that any force in the country have circulated you on the police national computer for. It will also entail local checks to see if you are a suspect in any other offences in this force. The officer will speak with colleagues who may have you down as a suspect for another matter but not managed to speak to you yet or circulate you formally. In such cases, if the evidence is ready and to sufficient standard, both matters can be put to you in interview.

In your case there are no other matters. You just have to wait for the officer to return. You have had your chance to speak your solicitor on the phone and have also spoke to your mum. We also have a power to take your fingerprints, photograph, DNA samples and footwear impressions. We need your consent for these but should you refuse we can take them by force.

20130424-215259.jpgFingerprints are now electronic and don’t involve messy black ink and rollers. Livescan is a computerised system and fires the prints down a secure line where they are checked for matches. As you are known it will return a positive hit. On occasion we get someone who claims to be John Smith when he arrives and is booked in but after Livescan is found to actually be Michael Jones! In most cases Michael Jones is wanted and its a feeble attempt to evade capture.

A photograph is just that.

DNA is a mouth swab or hair sample. The latter is difficult and as we also need the root, rather painful. I’ve never known anyone take this option. The mouth swab is a firm cotton pad rubbed gently on the inside of your cheek. Fingerprints and photo are taken every single time someone comes into custody. This is so that we can prove you are who you say you are. DNA is always taken until we have a sample taken of sufficient quality to hold on the database.. we then no longer take it. (Retention of such samples is still undergoing parliamentary review).

20130424-215437.jpgFootwear impressions are generally only taken for key offences such as burglary. It is a print of the soles of your shoe/trainers. They are almost like fingerprints and you may have left footprints at the crime scene.

You will at some point have prints, photo, DNA and footwear marks done. Sometimes immediately and at other times there may be a delay depending on time of day and how busy the suite is.

Some forces may also conduct mandatory drug testing for certain trigger offences. This is not an area for this blog.

Now you wait….


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