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West Midlands Police Federation

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Awards to be held for custody officers

19 September 2018

The new chief in charge of custody has announced he wants to raise the status of custody officers – and from 2019 will be holding custody awards.

Assistant Chief Constable Nev Kemp, National Police Chiefs’ Council custody lead, told delegates at the two-day National Custody Seminar that custody ‘must be seen as a more prestigious job’.

It comes after the results of the recent pay and morale survey revealed a high number of custody officers want to leave the role as they feel under-valued by the service and by the public.

ACC Kemp said: “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 over-ruled.

“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.”

Delegates heard from a range of speakers drawn from stakeholders and partner organisations as well as the Police Federation of England and Wales National Custody Forum and lead representatives on key issues affecting police custody.

A grieving father whose son died after being restrained also pleaded for changes in how deaths in custody are dealt with.

Tony Herbert’s son, James, died in police custody in Avon and Somerset in 2010. Police were called after James (25) was spotted running and shouting in a road in Wells, Somerset, looking ‘dishevelled’ during a mental health crisis.

The circumstances surrounding James’ death have since been subject to two IPCC investigations and an inquest.

Mr Herbert outlined his personal utopia for how deaths in custody would be dealt with, including the Crown Prosecution Service being involved much later, with officers involved obligated to fully report to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) within six months of the death.

Inspector Tony Maggs, one of the leading experts in cell design, also spoke about how the design of police custody suites is vital to both help prevent self -harm by detainees, and protect the welfare of custody officers.

He said: “Acoustics are important, especially with virtual courts and live link facilities. And there are conversations to be had around TVs in cells. A few years ago people were saying we were bonkers but you have to remember that a lot of people who are arrested lose their sense of time – we take their watches from them.

“There can be a degree of self-loathing, a sense of shame and embarrassment both for themselves and their families, so the custody environment is really important. We need to put operational users and detainees first in the design of custody suites.”

The seminar was held on 11 and 12 September in Daventry and also heard from Dr Meng Aw-Yong, medical director for the Metropolitan Police, about how better understanding of the dangers of Acute Behavioural Disturbance (ABD) in custody detainees is needed among healthcare staff.

Miranda Biddle, North East regional director of the IOPC, told delegates that ‘timeliness is still our biggest single criticism but we are working hard to address this’.

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October 2020
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