Part 2 – Custody Duties – My Shift on 18/07/2012

I wrote part 1 of this Blog yesterday and said that I would be writing a further one at a later date. When I said that I was not intending to write this one so soon but after a shift that I can only describe as mental last night I felt that I should strike whilst the iron is hot.

Yesterday I worked from 14:00 to 23:00 hrs in a custody suite that holds 16 prisoners. The building itself is old fashioned and does not have the luxury of intercom links between the cell and charge desk. Instead it has old fashioned buzzers that have to be answered by walking down the corridor to personally visit the cell. My shift yesterday saw me experience a mixture of worry, anger, frustration, hunger, as well as happiness. I can’t forget to add the bucket loads of constant stress!

14:00 – Briefing

Having unpacked my lunch box, put my epaulettes and given my colleague some stick for making a grade A cock up the shift before its time for briefing. The Custody Sergeant, my colleague and I are stood in the back office and the early turn Custody Sergeant walks in looking hot and bothered and very stressed. Great I am thinking to myself, today is going to be hard work! I get a run down of each prisoner in custody and damn they are a needy bunch!

14:30 – And We Are Off

My team are stood behind the Charge Desk talking and before I even get the chance to say who is making the tea I spot on the CCTV screen a prisoner on 30 minute visits fall to the floor and start having a seizure. Remember how I was stressing the importance of cell visits in part 1 of this Blog!!! Grabbing some rubber gloves my colleague and I run to the cell and enter. I support the head allowing the woman to have the seizure before putting her in the recovery position and monitoring her breathing etc. An Ambulance had been called by someone at the Charge Desk.

The woman was a Heroin addict who was also a Alcoholic. She was HIV Positive, had Hep C and was Epileptic. I had my hands full. You may or may not have seen my tweets yesterday about targeting drugs. I made a #PeelPromise to terrorise drug dealers, to harass and stalk them and to put them out of business. For the drug user I promised to deal with them professionally and where I can get them the help they need. I will explain why.

I was sat next to this woman who was now stable. I was waiting to support her head again should she have another seizure. Kneeling down in high leg Magnum boots starts to hurt after a few minutes. As my colleague and I assessed her I could see her filthy hands, she had dirty finger nails and dirty palms. As I looked at her I could see her dirty clothes that had never seen a washing machine. Her arms were covered in cigarette burns where a abusive partner had burned her, and she had puncture marks all over her arms where she had been injecting. Her ankles and lower part of her legs were purple and black and they too were full of puncture marks. It was vile to look at. Seeing this reminded me of the sad reality of drugs and I could not help but think what a tragic waste of life. This was someones daughter, sister and for all I knew someones mother! Anyway she was taken to hospital and admitted. I may in the future Blog about Drugs and Associated Crime.

As all of this is going on one of our regulars was really starting to pardon my French piss me off! He was a local alcoholic who had handed himself in as he had been shoplifting earlier that day. He only did this as he wanted a bed for the night, some food and of course some Diazapam from the HCP! He had been in custody less than an hour and I think he thought he was the only person in custody as he repeatedly buzzed demanding food and drink. Get stuffed fella, tea time is not until 18:00hrs and I have more urgent things to do like saving a life!

Anyway after the sick woman had gone to hospital I was kept very busy by our resident alcoholic who was buzzing every five minutes and being abusive as he was hungry. He kept kicking and punching his cell door and calling me some not very nice things. At the same time I had two convicted robbers who funnily enough had been arrested for robbery again! The two robbers were demanding phone calls and kept asking despite being told I would fit them in as and when I could.

Whilst I am running around to the point my white shirt was sticking to my back the Custody Sergeant and my colleague were adding to my workload by booking in more prisoners! I was required to assist them with taking fingerprints, photo’s and where needed DNA. As this happened buzzers continued, my temper got shorter and shorter and eventually I snapped! I slam the shutter down on the alcoholics cell and ask him his problem. he replies by saying, “I WANT FOOD YOU C~~T”. I lose it and say that I am far too busy to worry about him and his food and that he will be fed at tea time like everyone else and that he should wind his neck in otherwise when I do get round to food he will be at the back of the queue. At that point I could not have cared less about his food or if I had upset him. He was annoying and I had far more urgent things to do. If he did not like it he should not have committed crime was my attitude. Anyway he carried on buzzing and the Custody Sergeant gave him more or less the same reply as me.

To cut a long story short I feed everyone at tea time. I have not stopped between tea time and starting work. I get abuse from the two robbers when I offer them food as they have not had their very important phonecalls. They ask how come I have time to cook food and not give them their calls.

Between tea time and 20:00hrs I had to put up with more moaning, abuse and threats. The alcoholic demanded more food. FORGET IT!!! I at some point managed to squeeze phone calls in for the two robbers, NOT that my efforts were appreciated. I do not normally let people get to me but these two robbers did. I was so pleased when they were both charged and remanded. It bought a smile to my face. I had the last laugh as I went home leaving them behind.

All of a sudden it went quiet. The two remanded robbers went to sleep, we released a number of  prisoners and although the alcoholic would keep buzzing (although longer between buzzes) I managed to find two minutes for myself to use a toilet. What a luxury I thought, never have I been so happy to see a toilet before. Having had that short release I sat down and wrote a few tweets. The alcoholic buzzed AGAIN. Having calmed down I started thinking that I may have been out of order by snapping at him. The environment I was in had altered my behaviour so when I opened the hatch I spoke with the man, as I had time to. I explained that I had been very busy and that he had not helped by repeated buzzing when all he wanted was food. He knew how it worked as he was no stranger to custody. I then said sorry to him. My colleagues asked me why I had done that as he had been a “pain in the arse”. I accept that he has issues but that should not effect me. Anyway the alcoholic went to sleep, but not until he had a bloody good moan about wanting an extra pillow, another blanket, a cup of tea and wanting to move to a different cell as he did not like that one. He got a cup of tea and that was his lot!

Having cleaned out recently vacated cells, and finally getting to drink a cup of tea that had not gone cold I did a few visits and boy was I pleased to see the welcoming site of the night shift. We handed over three prisoners having had a clear out and I tell you what I was out of that custody suite like a rat up a drain pipe. Having had a hard set of shifts I had forgotten that today (the day after) was my two days off!! How do you forget something like that? I will tell you, being over worked and understaffed, being seriously stressed and wound up and being tired.

I said yesterday that Custody was hard work and if this snap shot of nine hours of hell yesterday does not bring that home to you I would encourage you to where possible get some experience in this vital department. To the arresting / interviewing officers out there please remember that if you are kept waiting that it will be for a good reason and whilst you may get time to sit at a desk or in a canteen to eat your lunch those in custody, like me yesterday often end up working straight through and end up taking their uneaten lunch home with them at the end of the shift!!!

Thank you for reading.


Custody Duties – A Response Officers View From The Other Side Of The Desk

I am a proactive member of my team. I like to harrass, terrorise and scare the living sh*t out of the criminals on my Division. That said I am fully aware that policing is not all about locking people up and that the role is about dealing with people in a respectful and dignified way, even those who to put it blunt deserve a bloody good slap! There are a few reasons for it, but I am for a short while working in the Custody Department and boy am I seeing this vital area of the service in a different light.

I decided that I would Blog about this work as to be honest I really do not think it gets the recognition it deserves. That, and having read the recent article in the news of yet another G4S balls up that nearly cost a prisoner their life made me realise that the only time custody gets any publicity is when a prisoner dies or a complaint of excessive force is made and I wanted to try my bit to clear up some of the negative thoughts towards custody.

Recently a Sergeant who was showing a new Probationer around the station stopped and introduced the new officer to me. The Sergeant said something along the lines of Terry (not real name) this is Robert Peel. He is our most prolific officer. Having met the new officer and later in the shift I pulled the Sergeant to one side and said what was that prolific comment about. He laughed and said that I was a good man and that he was referring to my recent performance. Taking that as a compliment I left and hit the streets.

As a regular visit to the custody cells I have on many occassions got extremely upset when I have been kept waiting on arriving with a new prisoner, especially if they are playing up, or I can hear the control room trying to assign immediate response jobs and there are no officers to take them. I have before now waited over an hour from arrival to a charge desk to start booking in.

For those of you who do not understand the custody booking in process I have attached a short video that the British Transport Police have produced that explains a little bit about it.

Now this process sounds simple in theory and can be completed in around ten to fifteen minutes if you have a compliant prisoner. Every arresting officer should search their prisoners properly prior to arrival at the police station however in my career I have heard of prisoners managing to conceal drugs and other things about their person which have made their way into police cells, and on a more serious note incidents such as the one in this short video.

With a volatile or evasive prisoner the booking in process can take up to an hour.  This added to the other list of tasks that custody staff must do such as releasing prisoners whether it be on bail and having to explain bail conditions, charging someone and having to remand them in custody overnight for court, or even releasing someone with no further action. They also must conduct other tasks such as supervising prisoners who require the services of the force Health Care Professional (HCP) who is a medical professional who specialises within the custody environment, overseeing private telephone consultations between prisoners and lawyers, conducting visits to cell as defined in the risk assessment and ensuring that prisoners are fed and watered. This delay causes delays for everyone including the likes of me waiting with a new prisoner. It was only since my time in custody that I have developed a respect for these delays.

When I found out that I was to work in custody I was not happy. I had the image of a grumpy Custody Sergeant (as they always looked grumpy but now I know that is pressure and not them personally) and having to deal with people I do not like. What I mean by dealing with people I do not like is this. As a frontline officer you will deal with people you do not like but once you have arrested them you can book them in and walk away unless you are to interview them. Then they are a custody problem and you can start your paperwork. Working in custody you cannot walk away and that person is there for the duration of your shift unless they happen to be released before.

Day 1 of custody and I went home KNACKERED! I thought that working between 8 and 12 hours dragging body armour and belt kit around was hard work especially if I had been running during the shift but after eight hours of running up and down custody wings dealing with prisoners I felt that I had burned more calories than going for a run.

In the video showing the booking in procedure they mentioned risk assessments. A risk assessment is done by establishing things such as alcohol and drugs use, medical / mental health issues and any medication that a prisoner may be taking. This information is then used to assess the risk level and that in term dictates the frequency that the prisoner will be visited or even if they must be under constant supervision. These visits are VITAL and should be stuck to religiously. This is the most important task in the custody world as failure to conduct visits can lead to prisoners coming to harm or even worse death. Have a read of this recent news clip that talks about a G4S Detention Officer who did NOT complete a visit and worse still then wrote a FALSE entry on the custody record stating that he had visited. You will see the seriousness of conducting visits and what can happen if ignored. Thankfully this incident was not fatal.

I cannot go into detail about the booking in process. My experience of booking in has mainly been from the arresting officers point of view and often the arrested person has taken a dislike to me so I have backed off allowing the Detention Officer to do the talking. Whilst I have been trained to conduct things such as taking of fingerprints, DNA, photos and footprints I am no computer wizard and leave that to the professionals.

I am still very much learning about the custody environment from the opposite side of the desk and to be honest I am learning alot. I have arrested many people who are drunk, high on drugs and want to chew my nose off but before now I did not have an appreciation for the abuse, threats and violence that my custody colleagues would have to put up with long after I have booked in and disappeared. I take my hat off to you all!

One thing that I have been on the receiving end of a few times that has now made me carefully choose words I use to people I arrest is phrases such as “dont worry it will only take a few hours” and “it wont take long and you will be out by tea time”. I have heard arresting officers say this many times and what upsets me about this is the fact that they do not know that what they are promising that person will happen. There may be enquiries to take place, a persons criminal history may mean that they get remanded or the person may even be getting transferred to another force area if the offence happened elsewhere. Arresting officers say these things if someone is being unhelpful with a view to getting them to come without fuss. I for one will now never say anything like this to a prisoner and if I can ask one thing of my followers who are officers is please follow my lead. The grief custody staff get when a prisoner kicks off is really unhelpful, and if the custody suite I am in is anything to go by the staff ALWAYS remember the arresting officers name as it is on your paperwork. You may find yourself being added to “The Custody List”, a list of officers who must make the tea!

I plan to write a Blog about a typical shift in custody and my experiences working within it. If my experience so far is anything to go by I have realised that custody staff are special people who are often under staffed and overworked. They have alot of pressures and to be honest they do very very well. I have had a number of shifts where I have taken my lunch home with me at the end. The prisoners rights seem to be a higher priority than mine and often getting five mins to use a toilet can be hard work. The delays that I experience when waiting to book in are for a reason and staff being lazy is not it and it is only until recently that I have understood why.

Yes I am proactive when on the street and when being grilled by a Custody Sergeant as to why I have arrested someone I now understand why they do it. They have a busy department and if there are other ways of dealing with a prisoner they will look to utilise those. I am going to close by thanking you for reading. I will write another post about custody and I am still researching into the Scarman Report so Part 2 of my Police and Community Relations Blog will be released shortly.

As always I value your comments and feedback.