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13 September 2018
Custody is just as much a victim of policing cuts as any other area in the service, delegates at the Police Federation of England and Wales’ (PFEW) annual National Custody Seminar heard this week.
Chris Bentley, chair of PFEW’s National Custody Forum, outlined some of the issues just a few days after the National Audit Office (NAO) released its damning report on the Financial Sustainability of the police forces of England and Wales.
Mr Bentley said: “As the Federation has been saying for years, cuts have consequences. As the NAO is saying that the Home Office is basically clueless about the financial sustainability of policing, you can’t tell me that the loss of 22,000 officers since 2010 is not having an impact on policing.
“For example, the amount of time taken for charging decisions to be made has now increased by four days, and arrests are also down by a rate of three people per 1,000. And custody is definitely one of the fields where cuts will have consequences. There cannot be any shortcuts in custody – it needs to remain robust, safe and dignified for everybody.”
The NAO report revealed that:
• It actually took 18 days to charge an offence for the year ending March 2018 - four days longer than for the year ending March 2016
• And, the arrest rate fell to 14 arrests per 1,000 population in 2016-17, down from 17 per 1,000 population in 2014-15
The seminar also heard from PFEW chair John Apter who said: “For many in policing, austerity feels very personal and the impact on officers is plain for all to see, not least in custody which is a very pressurised environment.
“Now, we have a situation where what used to be a sought after , respected and prestigious role is no longer seen like that. Now, you cannot get people to go into custody jobs. This absolutely should not be a role that no-one wants to do. Officers should see being a custody sergeant as the high point of their career.”
Mr Apter was speaking after this year’s Police Federation Pay and Morale survey revealed that custody is seen as the ‘worst job in policing’ as nearly one in four (22.5%) of custody officers wanting to be redeployed away from detention duties as soon as possible.
Elsewhere at the event:
• Chief Inspector Michael Brown, the College of Policing’s mental health co-ordinator, highlighted the issues of dealing with detainees with complex vulnerabilities including substance addictions and mental health issues in custody, as well as the challenges of providing Appropriate Adults.
• Professor Michael Zander QC, Emeritus Professor of Law at the London School of Economics, delivered an update on PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) code changes following the new provisions of the Policing and Crime Act. It covered the vast extension of police powers to civilian aides, cross border powers and the use of police stations as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act 1983.
• Senior lawyer Tim Coolican, from Slater and Gordon, highlighted the painful length of some investigations by police watchdog the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct), with several taking seven years to complete, or more. He added: “They ought to be focussing on learning the lessons [when things go wrong] rather than spending all this time prosecuting people.”