Tag Archives: prisoners

Detention Not Authorised

I was a traffic officer for 7 years. You may be able to tell by the amount of tweets I put out about drink drive, speed, phones, seat belts and others. I had dealt with every type of accident you can imagine. A fantastic job and one I miss very much but I made a decision. That decision was based around finances and my family and meant that I transferred to another force.

In a naive kind of way I expected my new force to assess my skills and put them to their most effective use. How wrong could I have been. They binned the lot of them and put me on a custody investigation team dealing with run of the mill arrests for the response teams.

After 4 months and a few weeks a brand new custody facility opened. I went from a small police station based custody suite, that was pretty awful if I’m honest, to a smart up to date unit with over 3 times as many cells. I continued to work in this role as a PC for another 8 months. During this time I passed my Pt2 Sgt exam and passed a board interview.

Nobody wanted to work in custody so I made it known that I would gladly work in custody should the opportunity arise. It did. Far quicker than I expected. In October 2006 I was promoted to Sgt and moved from the upstairs investigation office to the charge desk downstairs. I’ve been there ever since… until today.

I walked out of custody today for the last time as a full time member of the custody staff. I may well get called back in to cover on occasion. I may well get asked to do overtime. But as of today I am no longer part of that team.

What an experience it has been. I have authorised the detention of 1000’s of suspects for every offence you can possibly imagine… well maybe not all of them..  Men, women, boys and girls. There have even been a few dogs.. albeit not proper prisoners but just lodged with us in the kennels for a while. Assaults, drugs, drink drive, drunk and disorderly, public order, rape, sexual touching, indecent images, murder, conspiracy, pervert the course of justice, prison recalls, warrants, international extradition warrants, death by dangerous driving, child neglect, firearms, immigration, fraud, proceeds of crime, mental health and more. I’m really only scratching the surface. I even touched on a terrorism matter but only briefly. (fortunately.. this is a very complex area of custody business!) I’ve booked in the local drunk, the respected business person, the teacher, the social worker, the celebrity and the frequent flyers. They all come.. they all go. In one way or another.

In my previous force the solicitors were treated like the enemy. It was a culture I was born into. I knew nothing different and it was often adversarial in custody. When I came to this force it was different. I have built up a rapport with many of the local firms. There are some I don’t particularly like and wouldn’t have represent me but there are also some who I would recommend my best friend to. I have a great relationship with many of them and this is wholly conducive to a better working relationship and works in the favour of the detainee.. everyone, working together to get to the right result.

I’ve had arguments with difficult solicitors but I’ve had far more arguments with stupid drunks, intolerant people and those who simply refuse to listen. I’ve met people whom I have had compassion for and those I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them. I’ve sat on cell floors chatting with people who need help and someone to talk to and I’ve slammed the door on those who want to spit in my face, kick me in the groin and tell me they will hunt down where I live and rape my wife.

I’ve conducted strip searches, fought with drunks, had my hand down people’s throats, rolled around on the floor in pools of urine, cut clothing from around people’s necks, talked people out of self harming and wrestled with a naked woman with mental health problems. I’ve laughed and joked with prisoners and at times I’ve been scared to death. I’ve made some great decisions and I’ve dropped a few clangers but fortunately, I’ve not lost anyone in all my time in custody. I thank God for that!

I’ve had occasions where I’ve felt that no matter how hard I’ve tried it was, in the eyes of some, never enough. I also have some pride in the occasions where I know I have made a difference… particularly with youngsters. That is something that is massively satisfying.

I’ve made decisions that some have loved and I’ve made decisions that some have hated. I stand my ground, make bold decisions and don’t simply fall back to the default position of sending matters to CPS and letting them take the flack for a decision. This invariably means that I come into conflict with others opinions. Some have been right decisions.. some wrong. One that was deemed to be wrong I still believe was right.

I got tweeting and was then discovered and identified by my Ch Insp and Insp. I took the wrap but they were good to me. My tweets from the desk were curtailed and then stopped but it led to some positive leadership and a huge deal of support from the ACPO command that has, in my eyes, paid dividends. I am very grateful to my force for the trust I have been given.

Custody can be an awful place. Every single drunken, fighting, spitting, swearing person arrested ends up in front of me. It takes a lot of personal control to remain professional in the face of such adversity. If you don’t have a strong constitution it will soon get the better of you. The key to my length of service in custody though was the team I worked with. A great set of DO’s, a brilliant team of Sgt’s and excellent medical support. The team are the people that keep you going. The team are the people who pick you up when you’re down and make you laugh. The team are the people who make it work, keep everyone safe and get the job done. This is as true now with my custody team as it was the first day I joined my section colleagues back in the early 90’s.

As of Monday I start my new job in the control room. I’m looking forward to the challenge but it’s going to be tough. I can handle the technology with ease but getting to grips with many of the practices I’ve not had any dealings with for 7 years or even longer will take a bit of getting used to. I’m going to have to fly by the seat of my pants for a while and no doubt there will be a few mistakes along the way.

In the words of my late tutor con.. “Error is the discipline through which we all advance”... I will remember this as I get going in my new role as I have throughout my service.

My time is up. There have been good days, bad days, brilliant days and some that I try very much to forget. Overall though it has been fun and barring a torn ligament in my wrist I have come out of 7 years in custody with no other injuries or problems… if you don’t count being of a rather pale complexion and an adverse reaction to daylight.

I have decided that my twitter name will stay the same. The blog will also stay the same for now. I thought about changing to @thecommsgt and ‘The Incident Log’ but if my role changes again then the same situation arises. I will start to look for a generic name and blog title that will travel with me no matter what I do. Until then I will remain exactly the same. The service will continue, I will no doubt comment on custody matters as and when they come to my attention but will also start to look at how we manage resources against demand and control room issues. It should be fun.

I’m replacing the cell keys with a headset.

My detention in custody is no longer authorised.

IMG_2959 - Version 2

Partners… not in my book.

How do the police get a prisoner to court? There are two ways.

  • Bail them
  • Remand them

In the first scenario the person is released from custody. They are given a date and time to appear before the court and must do so. They are on their own recognizance and failure to appear will often lead to a warrant for their arrest. In the second case the we have decided that the offence is too serious to release the person. We may also be concerned that the person may commit further offences, fail to attend court and in some cases it may be necessary for their own safety. A remanded person is held in police cells until the next court sitting. They are then transported to the local court. The court may, in some cases, be linked to the police station and prisoners can be passed from police to court cell staff by a secure corridor. As more forces move toward larger custody facilities they tend to be remote from the courts. It is important to remember that court cell staff are not police. They are private contractors such as G4S, Reliance and GeoAmey. The word thrown around when talking of such companies is “partners”. If the court and police station are not linked then transport vehicles, commonly G4S_2713281bknown as “sweatboxes”, will come to police custody collect the prisoners and move them to court. Again these vehicles are provided by our partners. In some forces the number of prisoner movements to court has been reduced by the introduction of video courts. This is a process where the court itself and a dedicated “court room” at police custody are linked by video. The court will conduct its business as usual and the suspect can be miles away. The court and prisoner can see and hear one another by way of several cameras, microphones and large TV screens. However, even with the introduction of VEC around the country there is still the need for movement of remand prisoners for other areas. A VEC cannot hear cases for other force areas/counties. There are also some categories of prisoner (violent, juvenile, needing an interpreter) that cannot be placed on VEC. As such our partners, through the PECS contracts still need to move prisoners around force areas, regions and nationally. This was traditionally a job that the police used to do ourselves. We would move our own prisoners to court and had a transport infrastructure to make that happen. If a national movement was needed then the ‘owning’ force would collect. As an example; if the Met arrested a person wanted on warrant for a Lancashire court then the Met would tell Lancs and they would go and collect the prisoner. These days the Met would inform their PECS contract holder and they would move the person direct to court in Lancashire. This all makes sense. Using ‘partners’ keeps the police in their local area doing police work and not ferrying prisoners around the country. Apparently it also saves the government money. There are different PECS contract holders and they all operate much in the same way with minor differences. They are not without issue though. The same suspects appear every time, Serco, G4S, GeoAmey etc and the contracts are not without problems. The issue I have is with the term ‘partners’. The Oxford dictionary says; Partner (noun) a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or firm with shared risks and profits The PECS contract holders have taken part in an undertaking with us as a business. That all fits. The police are not in the business of making profits so we can ignore that bit. So what about ‘shared risks’? The PECS contractors are required to move people to court for the police. They will also move people from court to prison. When I’m on nights my team send an email to the PECS contract holder detailing all the detainees that need moving. They will then turn up around 8am and take them all to court. Sometimes, depending on what is needed, several vans may come to head off in different directions. Simple. Works. Sorted. Not so fast. The contracts are squeezed to their limit to be as lean as possible and maximise profits to shareholders. As a consequence it regularly falls over. Why? You can’t manage an unpredictable service with a predictable and rigid contract that has no resilience built into it. Early morning arrests on warrant that need national movements don’t get picked up. We are told they have no capacity and the arrested person stays in custody over 24hrs longer than they need to. Some national movements are so slow to happen that by the time they arrive at the destination the court has closed. Local police cells then have to lodge people overnight. A fast case processed in custody in the morning and remanded by 10am falls to the contractor to collect. They advise they have no capacity and cannot move the person. Who moves the prisoner? We do. The contract holder gets the overnight notification and hasn’t read it properly. One of the detainees is female. They have organised their fleet and sent a van based on men only. They cannot move males and females together and there is no capacity for another van. Who moves the prisoner? We do. They are our partners. They share the risk. Well maybe on paper they do but when push come to shove the police pick up the pieces of their failings. Worse is that our one way partners seem to actually RELY on this. A ‘don’t worry the police will sort it out’ attitude pervades. Any commitment to fulfil contractual obligations is dismissed in favour of the problem being ours. Whilst partners help one another with the unexpected, this happens almost every single day. We are a bolt on to ensure their contract works. Partners? The contract is inefficient and not fit for purpose yet the Government is committed to this partnership with private sectors and wants to save money. A couple of days ago one of our motorway patrols arrested a man on warrant. It was a minor offence but he had failed to attend court. He was driven to our custody suite and booked in. The court wanting him was 160 miles away. The PECS contractors came and collected him. Two staff in a large van with low MPG compared to a suitable car or smaller van drove him 160 miles to court. Most likely to appear, get a fine and be released. The contractors then had to drive 160 miles back to base. Wasteful? I’d say so. Is it time for the courts to change tack on how they deal with cases like this? Should the person be put before the court in the area they were arrested like breach of bail? It would save a pile of money as these movements are happening all over the country and every day. Often with one person on the van. With the advent of VEC there is potential given the right technology and coordination to put that warrant on a video link not to the local court but to the one 160 miles away. That would save everyone time and money. Many local courts would say “We can’t hear that case. We don’t have the file, it’s not our jurisdiction and who would pay?” Nothing that can’t be solved with a bit of intelligent management. After all the law is the same across the country and the sentencing guidelines are the same too. We talk about saving money and at the minute it’s biting into every area of policing. No department is exempt. We are losing officers and staff whilst most forces have gone into overdrive recruiting Special Constables.. (though they are not a replacement we are told). Pay, pensions and conditions are all getting a trouncing, morale is as low as I’ve ever seen it and officers are overstretched and stressed. Yet right under our noses the government are implementing contracts with ‘partners’, worth £millions, that are haemorrhaging money. When they fall down we pick up the pieces and are relied upon to do so.. when are the police going to say.. “I’m sorry but we just don’t have the capacity to deal with that” … lets face it. Our ‘partners’ do this all the time.