“Gaps” in Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s partnership with a neighbouring force have led to a lack of accountability in delivering custody services, a joint inspection has found.
The complex governance structure for custody in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire has left Cambridgeshire Constabulary with poor control over day-to-day functions, according to the prisons and constabulary inspectorates.
Understaffing is also placing extra strain on custody officers, and some weaknesses identified in 2011 have still not been addressed.
However, the overall findings were positive, with staff showing an impressive standard of care to detainees.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, and HM Inspector of Constabulary Dru Sharpling, said: “We found many positive features in the way that custody services operated, delivering good frontline outcomes for detainees in a number of key areas.
“However, at a strategic level we had concerns that the weaknesses identified in our 2011 inspection remained, and that, in practice, the collaborative arrangements for custody services did not provide sufficient accountability at senior officer level in Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
“Until this is addressed, we believe that this will remain a block to the custodial function in Cambridgeshire becoming even better.”
Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s partnership with the neighbouring Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces means it does not have direct oversight for its own custody provision.
The force also has a separate agreement with Norfolk Constabulary to use facilities outside the county for some detainees.
The inspection found little evidence these arrangements have led to any real benefits and may have hampered governance of custody in Cambridgeshire.
Collaboration between the forces was underdeveloped and gaps in engagement and scrutiny at senior officer level had already been acknowledged.
Cambridgeshire Constabulary is also unable to properly monitor the facilities in Norfolk, meaning it can not tell if its detainees there were dealt with properly.
Inspectors also found staff cover is not always sufficient to ensure safe detention, leaving their colleagues “clearly stretched”.
However, the force has improved its response to mental health since 2011, and has a strong focus on diverting vulnerable people from custody.
Responding to the report, Assistant Chief Constable Dan Vajzovic said: “We acknowledge the inspector’s area of concern and the recommendation, which we will be looking at, and we already putting plans in place to improve in the areas highlighted.
“Improving how we deliver all our services to the people of Cambridgeshire is important to us, and we welcome the findings of this inspection.”