I am a proactive member of my team. I like to harrass, terrorise and scare the living sh*t out of the criminals on my Division. That said I am fully aware that policing is not all about locking people up and that the role is about dealing with people in a respectful and dignified way, even those who to put it blunt deserve a bloody good slap! There are a few reasons for it, but I am for a short while working in the Custody Department and boy am I seeing this vital area of the service in a different light.
I decided that I would Blog about this work as to be honest I really do not think it gets the recognition it deserves. That, and having read the recent article in the news of yet another G4S balls up that nearly cost a prisoner their life made me realise that the only time custody gets any publicity is when a prisoner dies or a complaint of excessive force is made and I wanted to try my bit to clear up some of the negative thoughts towards custody.
Recently a Sergeant who was showing a new Probationer around the station stopped and introduced the new officer to me. The Sergeant said something along the lines of Terry (not real name) this is Robert Peel. He is our most prolific officer. Having met the new officer and later in the shift I pulled the Sergeant to one side and said what was that prolific comment about. He laughed and said that I was a good man and that he was referring to my recent performance. Taking that as a compliment I left and hit the streets.
As a regular visit to the custody cells I have on many occassions got extremely upset when I have been kept waiting on arriving with a new prisoner, especially if they are playing up, or I can hear the control room trying to assign immediate response jobs and there are no officers to take them. I have before now waited over an hour from arrival to a charge desk to start booking in.
For those of you who do not understand the custody booking in process I have attached a short video that the British Transport Police have produced that explains a little bit about it.
Now this process sounds simple in theory and can be completed in around ten to fifteen minutes if you have a compliant prisoner. Every arresting officer should search their prisoners properly prior to arrival at the police station however in my career I have heard of prisoners managing to conceal drugs and other things about their person which have made their way into police cells, and on a more serious note incidents such as the one in this short video.
With a volatile or evasive prisoner the booking in process can take up to an hour. Â This added to the other list of tasks that custody staff must do such as releasing prisoners whether it be on bail and having to explain bail conditions, charging someone and having to remand them in custody overnight for court, or even releasing someone with no further action. They also must conduct other tasks such as supervising prisoners who require the services of the force Health Care Professional (HCP) who is a medical professional who specialises within the custody environment, overseeing private telephone consultations between prisoners and lawyers, conducting visits to cell as defined in the risk assessment and ensuring that prisoners are fed and watered. This delay causes delays for everyone including the likes of me waiting with a new prisoner. It was only since my time in custody that I have developed a respect for these delays.
When I found out that I was to work in custody I was not happy. I had the image of a grumpy Custody Sergeant (as they always looked grumpy but now I know that is pressure and not them personally) and having to deal with people I do not like. What I mean by dealing with people I do not like is this. As a frontline officer you will deal with people you do not like but once you have arrested them you can book them in and walk away unless you are to interview them. Then they are a custody problem and you can start your paperwork. Working in custody you cannot walk away and that person is there for the duration of your shift unless they happen to be released before.
Day 1 of custody and I went home KNACKERED! I thought that working between 8 and 12 hours dragging body armour and belt kit around was hard work especially if I had been running during the shift but after eight hours of running up and down custody wings dealing with prisoners I felt that I had burned more calories than going for a run.
In the video showing the booking in procedure they mentioned risk assessments. A risk assessment is done by establishing things such as alcohol and drugs use, medical / mental health issues and any medication that a prisoner may be taking. This information is then used to assess the risk level and that in term dictates the frequency that the prisoner will be visited or even if they must be under constant supervision. These visits are VITAL and should be stuck to religiously. This is the most important task in the custody world as failure to conduct visits can lead to prisoners coming to harm or even worse death. Have a read of this recent news clip that talks about a G4S Detention Officer who did NOT complete a visit and worse still then wrote a FALSE entry on the custody record stating that he had visited. You will see the seriousness of conducting visits and what can happen if ignored. Thankfully this incident was not fatal.Â http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/17/g4s-investigated-over-prisoner-collapse?CMP=twt_gu
I cannot go into detail about the booking in process. My experience of booking in has mainly been from the arresting officers point of view and often the arrested person has taken a dislike to me so I have backed off allowing the Detention Officer to do the talking. Whilst I have been trained to conduct things such as taking of fingerprints, DNA, photos and footprints I am no computer wizard and leave that to the professionals.
I am still very much learning about the custody environment from the opposite side of the desk and to be honest I am learning alot. I have arrested many people who are drunk, high on drugs and want to chew my nose off but before now I did not have an appreciation for the abuse, threats and violence that my custody colleagues would have to put up with long after I have booked in and disappeared. I take my hat off to you all!
One thing that I have been on the receiving end of a few times that has now made me carefully choose words I use to people I arrest is phrases such as “dont worry it will only take a few hours” and “it wont take long and you will be out by tea time”. I have heard arresting officers say this many times and what upsets me about this is the fact that they do not know that what they are promising that person will happen. There may be enquiries to take place, a persons criminal history may mean that they get remanded or the person may even be getting transferred to another force area if the offence happened elsewhere. Arresting officers say these things if someone is being unhelpful with a view to getting them to come without fuss. I for one will now never say anything like this to a prisoner and if I can ask one thing of my followers who are officers is please follow my lead. The grief custody staff get when a prisoner kicks off is really unhelpful, and if the custody suite I am in is anything to go by the staff ALWAYS remember the arresting officers name as it is on your paperwork. You may find yourself being added to “The Custody List”, a list of officers who must make the tea!
I plan to write a Blog about a typical shift in custody and my experiences working within it. If my experience so far is anything to go by I have realised that custody staff are special people who are often under staffed and overworked. They have alot of pressures and to be honest they do very very well. I have had a number of shifts where I have taken my lunch home with me at the end. The prisoners rights seem to be a higher priority than mine and often getting five mins to use a toilet can be hard work. The delays that I experience when waiting to book in are for a reason and staff being lazy is not it and it is only until recently that I have understood why.
Yes I am proactive when on the street and when being grilled by a Custody Sergeant as to why I have arrested someone I now understand why they do it. They have a busy department and if there are other ways of dealing with a prisoner they will look to utilise those. I am going to close by thanking you for reading. I will write another post about custody and I am still researching into the Scarman Report so Part 2 of my Police and Community Relations Blog will be released shortly.
As always I value your comments and feedback.