Custody seen as ‘worst job in policing’

07 September 2018

Andy Ward

Custody lead Andy Ward

Custody roles are becoming increasingly unpopular with nearly one in four (22.5%) of custody officers wanting to be redeployed away from detention duties as soon as possible.

This is up from last year when 18.9% said they wanted to quit.

The survey results highlight a long-held perception that custody is the worst job in policing, says the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW). By comparison only 2.5% of firearms officers wanted to switch jobs and less than eight per cent of detectives.

The current-day custody climate is revealed in PFEW’s annual Pay and Morale survey which included custody-specific questions for the second year running. More than 27,000 police officers, nearly a quarter of all ranks from constable to chief inspector, took part.

Nearly three-quarters (72.2%) of officers currently not in a custody role say they would never want to do that job.

Andy Ward, PFEW Deputy General Secretary and National Custody Lead, said: “Custody has always been a hard-to-fill role and, with it being one of the most challenging areas of policing, the situation is not improving.

“If anything goes wrong there are potentially serious ramifications, not only for the detainee but also for the officers involved who often face lengthy and traumatic investigations, putting their careers on hold and placing them under the threat of losing their job.

“The responsibility is immense – from ensuring detainees’ rights and welfare are being looked after, to also mitigating the additional risks posed by complex vulnerabilities such as mental health issues, alcohol or drug dependencies, as well as making key decisions in the criminal justice process that affect both the liberty of suspects and the safety of the public.”

Other results from the survey included:
•    89% of custody officers said they were not paid fairly considering the stresses and strains of the job
•    82% felt financially worse off than five years ago

Speaking ahead of PFEW’s National Custody Seminar next week, Mr Ward highlighted some of the recurring themes in the custody arena and said that the number of officers putting themselves forward to be a custody sergeant are also dropping.

He said: “Our survey also shows that 58% of custody officers said they had low personal morale and 50% said they were unhappy with training opportunities. So it is unsurprising that there is a reluctance to work within custody when, despite the specialist nature of the role, not only is the investment in the training and development of staff inadequate but, like many officers in frontline roles, they also feel poorly remunerated given the high risk nature of the job.

“When there are organisational failures, too often individual custody officers are blamed and it can feel like the worst job in policing. Shrinking budgets across partner agencies like the NHS and social services means that too many detainees with vulnerabilities can end up in a police cell, which is an inappropriate setting for people with complex needs.

“These are the people most at risk in detention but the problem needs to be looked at holistically, bringing together all the relevant agencies and ensuring there are proper resources available to keep detainees safe. This should not just be a police problem, it should be everybody’s problem but the current situation makes being a custody officer a very unattractive option indeed.”

The custody seminar will tackle topics including deaths and serious incidents in custody, mental health and policing issues as well as the full impact of the recent pre-charge police bail provisions and disclosure. There will also be input from the Independent Office for Police Conduct.