Those go you that follow my twitter feed.. You mean you don’t? .. will know that last week I announced that my departure from custody had been formalised. It has and I’m out from week commencing January 27th. Things change and regularly do but that’s the date I have at present.
So where am I going? How can I be @thecustodysgt if I’m not actually “in” custody? How can this blog be “The Custody Record”?
Well before covering where I’m going, let’s start with why. I’m told that the powers that be decided all uniform Sgt’s should have neighbourhood policing experience. I’m also told that more neighbourhood Sgt’s need custody experience. As a consequence there needs to be some movement and a criteria was drawn up to determine who should go. The three factors given to me were;
- Promoted into custody
- More than 5 years in custody
- More than 2 years before retirement
I tick all these boxes and so hit the top of the list. There are people with much more time in custody than I have but they fall outside of the other criteria. At the time I was fully qualified for promotion nobody wanted to work in custody. The force were having real battles getting staff to come in. I volunteered. This got me promoted much quicker than I had anticipated. In addition, because I had been working as part of the custody investigation team, I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for.
I had only been in this force 13 months. Prior to that I had spent many years as a roads policing officer with another force. I was armed to the teeth with specialist skills and qualifications. Something my current employers chose to set to one side and ignore. So as you can see, all my time with my current force had been in a custody related role. I’ve now completed just over 7 years as a custody sgt. I spent many years becoming a roads policing specialist and then, by virtue of my transfer, which was my choice, I became a custody “specialist”.
Over recent years there have been many changes to policing. We moved to a neighbourhood policing model, centralised custody suites and specialist response teams who attended immediate jobs. My view, and not everyone will agree with me, is it didn’t work. We created silos within policing and a term that needs to be eradicated from police vocabulary was born. “That’s not within my remit”. Our response teams were abandoned and have merged with neighbourhood teams. I won’t go into a huge diatribe about neighbourhood policing but in many ways what we do now is, in principle, not much different from what we always did. It just has another name that is clung to by the Home Office and Senior Officers as accepting we have retreated a little is impossible to comprehend. “We are not retreating.. we are advancing in a new direction”.
There is a need for specialists in policing. CID, traffic and dogs are just three of a very long list. It could be argued that even pre neighbourhood policing we had silos too. That said the base level (section as we used to call it) was littered with cops who could turn their hand to anything and where young probationers cut their teeth on the nuts and bolts of policing. One area that wasn’t a specialism was custody. Historically it was always staffed by a Sgt from the local team. This Sgt would normally rotate with the other Sgt’s on the team. You would therefore get time in custody and time on the streets. In some cases Sgt’s made a local agreement where one was happy to work custody all the time and the other preferred to be out and about. Since then custody in my force and many others has changed. Large central facilities are now very common. PACE hasn’t changed that much really but the requirements on custody Sgt’s in relation to healthcare, welfare and compliance with SDHP has increased massively. It has, whether forces are prepared to accept it or not, become very much a specialist role. You have to know your stuff and be right on the ball with all the latest developments. It’s not a job we can just wing any more. People die in custody. Forces need Sgts in custody who are competent and can protect themselves, their team and the force from risk.
Do I have hands on neighbourhood policing experience? No. Do I deal with neighbourhood officers on a daily basis, advise, guide and steer them as a supervisor? Yes. However, there is also much I don’t know about how Sgt’s operate on the streets these days because my focus has been custody. Can I walk out of custody straight into a neighbourhood sgt role and be competent and efficient? No. Can a sgt coming into custody do the same? Of course not. Am I de-skilled? You bet I am and yet that has been necessary to ensure the increasingly complex area of custody business is managed safely.
I’m told I need to have neighbourhood policing experience. Oddly enough it seems that yet again my specialisms are being binned. This time in favour of chasing the omni-competent officer model. I think in the current climate of policing and austerity that this boat sailed a long time ago. Policing has changed. Swapping Sgt’s around to increase all round ability may have once been achievable on section. However, forces would never have tolerated putting a section Sgt in a Detective Sgt or Traffic Sgt role. Custody is now a specialist role and needs to staffed by specialists and treated in the same way.
So where am I going? Well, I have been asked which neighbourhood team I would prefer and they will do their best to put me there. I know, as do many other officers around the country nodding their heads right now, that this rarely happens and more often than not you end up elsewhere. Yet there is another option. A role that nobody wants to do, they have difficulty staffing and I can go to if I want to. I have thought long and hard about my options. What I need at the moment is stability. The stability that custody has given me. A young family and a wife who works long hours and travels all mean that one of the most important factors for me is knowing that I will finish at a set time. This allows me to arrange child care and ensure my wife’s career is not impeded by my choice to be a cop.
So here it is. I am off to HQ and will be taking on a role as one of the control room Sgt’s. Will this give me neighbourhood policing experience? The answer is yes. Not in the driving around in a car sense but I will be overseeing all the incidents in a given area, managing resources in conjunction with outside Sgts and getting involved in incidents, albeit at the end of the radio, before they end up in custody.
So am I happy? Well at the outset the answer was no. I was angry that I was being moved against my wishes and my specialisms yet again were being binned. As time has moved on though and I have thought about this new role. I have come to terms with it and am now looking forward to a new challenge. I have been doing a little work with my force and their use of social media and going into the control room dovetails nicely with that work too.
Before I transferred I commuted. I never hated the drive. I simply accepted it as part of my work. Only when I knew I was leaving for another force did I come to detest that journey. The same has happened now. I enjoy custody. I work with a good team. Yet whilst I work in that environment I haven’t allowed myself to think about it too closely. I just do it. Only now that I know I’m going have I realised that in many ways I have had my fill. It’s time to go and I will be glad of the change.
I will no doubt become, in time, a control room specialist. I’m told that I will need to keep “up to date” with custody and will have to do at least 8 custody shifts a year to ensure resilience. I’m not entirely sure about this. I will be busy learning a new role. Processes, requirements, policies and the law change… I will go in tomorrow and there will be at least three new things I need to do. You cannot keep up to speed with all of this whilst learning a new job. Things will be missed. We wouldn’t ask a Detective Sgt to maintain his traffic experience in the same way. Time will tell how this will unfold but I know the IPCC will be crawling over any Sgt that is anything less than 110% capable in custody in the event of a death. Custody is such a high risk area for forces that parachuting staff in when needed is fraught with danger and one that needs to be considered very carefully.
In the meantime, whilst some of this may seem negative, I am ready to go, I’ve done my time in custody. I’m looking forward to the new challenge and a new team.
Who will I be? Some have suggested @excustodysgt but this sounds like I’m retired. Some have said I have a name that is known and should keep it. I think it needs to change. I’m thinking of @TheCommsSgt and changing this blog to “The Incident Log”. Let me know what you think.