Custody ‘must be seen as more prestigious job’
11 September 2018
The new chief in charge of custody says it’s vital the status of custody policing roles is raised – and he is enlisting the Police Federation of England and Wales’ help to make that happen.
ACC Nev Kemp, who took over the custody top job at the end of last year, has asked PFEW to host the National Custody Awards at its 2019 National Custody Seminar.
He said: “I’ve looked at the recent Federation [Pay and Morale] survey and the high numbers of custody officers who want to leave – they are undervalued by the service and undervalued by the public.
“There will always be a risk in custody but you have to remember that custody officers are responsible for some of the most challenging and difficult people in society, often in very frail physical and mental health.
“No-where else in the world has closer scrutiny on custody – it’s difficult to see how we could be more open and transparent. Being a custody sergeant is the only role in policing where you have to go right up to Superintendent to be overruled. They are charged with sometimes making unpopular decisions to deprive someone of their liberty and are a critical and pivotal part of the criminal justice process, with a role also in protecting the public, for example when deciding bail conditions.”
Speaking at this year’s PFEW National Custody Seminar in Daventry, he said: “So I want to raise the status of custody officers. Next year the NPCC custody service awards will be held at the Federation custody seminar. Custody should be a prestigious, professional job, not one where we see people forced into the role.”
Mr Kemp told delegates the custody landscape had improved vastly over the past 20 years: “Go back to 1998 and there were 69 deaths in custody; that is too high. But the profession is in a much better place now, although there is still quite a lot to do.
“Last year there were 23 deaths, which is still too high. This was a disappointment because the previous year there were just 14. Of course every death in custody is a tragedy for everybody, but it’s also a tragedy for the officers and staff involved. And it takes far too long to resolve the issues afterwards.”
Mr Kemp said he was talking to both Government and the Independent Office for Police Conduct about trying to reduce the length of investigations but was encouraged by the reduction in custody deaths overall.
He said: “And while there were deaths last year, no-body died as a result of self-harm in custody last year, compared with the seven who unfortunately died as a result of self-harm in 2004/5 – this is important because a lot of what is done in custody is designed with the intent of protecting detainees.”
Mr Kemp said he and his colleagues were also looking into developments like video-enabled remand hearings and suggestions that police officers might take over duties if Border Force staff closed their own custody centres.
“There are three criteria that matter with all proposals,” he said. “Whether there is any increased risk to detainees, as a result, any additional cost to the police service, or whether there is any impact on efficiency. If the answer to any of these is yes, then it is just not viable.”