Strategy to drive consistency in custody

The first national strategy for police custody has been launched to guide developments
over the next five to ten years.

Jan 13, 2017

The first national strategy for police custody has been launched to guide developments
over the next five to ten years.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) document also sets out six clear strategic
principles and is based on creating greater legitimacy, effectiveness and efficiency – the main
themes of force inspections.

National lead for custody and chief constable of Surrey Police, Nick Ephgrave, told Police
Professional that the aim of the first ever strategy for custody is to drive consistent
application of high standards across England and Wales in recognition of recent changes,
such as the focus on vulnerability.

The details of the strategy, agreed by the NPCC in the autumn and formally published on
Friday (January 13), complement legislation and authorised professional practice (APP) and
are contained under the same three themes as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary
PEEL inspection regime.

Mr Ephgrave said the strategy aims to develop a nationally consistent and transparent custody
operation, recognising that crime is changing, the type of people entering custody is different,
the number of arrests has greatly reduced and public expectations have changed. However,
these developments may not have been incorporated in the piecemeal creation of force
processes.

“Forces have taken legislation and guidance and developed their own custody operations but
there are aspects that could benefit from best practice and greater consistency, such as risk
management,” he explained.

While staff may act within the law, Mr Ephgrave hopes to ensure custody operations in every
force are also seen as legitimate in the eyes of the public.

And with austerity measures having reduced force budgets and staff numbers, the strategy
examines how the most can be made of resources available, which will include greater
collaboration.

“Bringing someone into custody is risk-laden, it is costly, so there is no point doing it unless
it is effective and gives you the outcome you are looking for,” Mr Ephgrave added.
He suggested that the default position for investigators has been to take a suspect into custody
but alternatives must be found.

“The number of people coming into custody is dropping and we need to be looking for
alternatives, the default position has been to bring people into custody, we almost need to
reverse that and say no-one should come into custody unless it is essential.”

Mr Ephgrave said already under way as part of the strategy is the development of a national
risk assessment tool to replace the locally developed check lists that have grown every time
tragedies occur.

“Every force’s risk assessment process is different and, despite several unsuccessful attempts
to formalise it over the years, every time something goes wrong we add another tick-box to
our checklist.

“And when you look at the evidence it is not effective at predicting risk,” he added.
Commissioned in 2016, Loughborough University and a number of forces are examining
custody records to develop a way of understanding the risks associated with each detainee. It
is anticipated the tool will be ready to begin a 12-month pilot programme in the first half of
this year.

The development of this tool has been welcomed by practitioners and campaign groups such
as Inquest.

The strategy says that despite significant investment in the workforce to date, inconsistencies
still exist between forces regarding accreditation and training expectations of those working
in custody. Mr Ephgrave says he would like to see good practice shared more effectively,
continued promotion of confidence in their professional knowledge, training and judgment,
as opposed to viewing it as a punishment posting.

“I want to professionalise the custody role, it may not always be a popular post but if we can
make it more of a professionalised job, it will be a good thing. One problem is they are all
trained in different ways,” he added.

“If we could have one national training regime, how wonderful that would be.”

The document does not specify whether private sector involvement would be a positive step
but states major developments should be made together with other forces and partners to gain
the greatest benefit. If agreements are entered into they should be national and not individual
agreements, Mr Ephgrave suggests, and make the best use of technology available.

The custody strategy does not determine how forces should develop their appropriate adult
provision for vulnerable people over 18 – one of the most contentious custody issues – but
they should use the principles to guide negotiations with partners.

Some forces are supported by local authorities but many have to use volunteers. Mr Ephgrave
said it is an area that is challenging to gain national consistency and he is supporting the
National Appropriate Adult Network in its lobbying for legislative change.

“It must be right that the strategy supports the move to greater legitimacy; no matter where
you are, if you are a vulnerable adult you get a properly-qualified, decently-trained
appropriate adult provided for you, as opposed to what you get now which depends on where
you are.”

As the number of people detained in police cells under the Mental Health Act has reduced
dramatically following the signing of crisis care concordats in each area, a new national
concordat for detained children in local authority care will address the immense challenge of
transferring under 18s from police custody

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