A day in the life of a Leicestershire Police Custody Sergeant
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Have you ever wondered what happens when a suspect is taken in to police custody?
Here, Sergeant Marc Crisp explains what is to be expected after an arrest takes place.
“The first thing that happens when a detainee is ‘booked in’ at one of our three custody suites is that the arrest details and the necessity for that arrest is explained to the duty sergeant who will decide if, for the outlined reasons, it is lawful and proportionate to detain that person.
“If deemed appropriate for the detainee to remain in custody the duty sergeant will explain the reasons why. These will usually be to secure and preserve evidence and to obtain evidence by questioning.
“A pre-set list of questions will be put to the arrested person and these help to determine any physical or mental health requirements or regular medication needs the detainee may have and to ensure they have the appropriate support needed while in custody
“A health care professional is on site 24hrs a day and will be present while a risk assessment is carried out ensuring any medical needs are met including a visit from the duty nurse or paramedic if it is deemed necessary or requested by the detainee. Health staff will also take care of administering any medication.
“Although anyone arrested would have been searched by officers at a scene, they will also be searched when they arrive at the custody suite. The process will be overseen by the duty sergeant and is performed to prevent their escape and ensure the safety of the detainee, officers and staff.
“The detainee will have their rights read to them. These include being able to inform someone they have been arrested and where they are being held via a telephone call. The only time they are not allowed to do this is if it impinges on an investigation or if it would put another person at risk. An interpreter can be requested and also an appropriate adult will be contacted if it is required. They will also, if they don’t already have one, be given access to a solicitor. Duty solicitors are free and the detainee will be able to request to speak to them at any time. Detainees are offered the chance to read the Code of Practice, code C of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) which sets out the requirements for the detention, treatment and questioning by police officers of suspects not related to terrorism in police custody.
“If the clothing the detainee is wearing forms part of the evidence they will be asked to remove it and it will be bagged and labelled and taken to the property store. In return a grey sweatshirt and jogging bottoms will be given out. We even have a choice of footwear – foam slippers or plimsolls.
“Female detainees will have access to a female officer at any time during their stay in custody.
“A photograph will be taken of the detainee and, depending on the crime being investigated, samples might also be taken. These can include fingerprints, DNA – usually a swab of the inside of the mouth, nail clippings, hand swabs and nail bed scrapings. If intimate samples are required an Inspector would have to give authorisation for them to be obtained.
“Once the preliminary ‘booking in’ process has been completed, the suspect will then be taken to a cell. A typical cell measures around 3.5m x 4m. It will have a bed and a couple of blankets – a pillow will be supplied if requested. There is a toilet, a basin, lighting, air vents and drinking water. Some cells have a frosted glass window and all cells have CCTV. The camera is there for the detainee’s welfare.
“Detainees eat in their cells. Hot and cold drinks and food is available throughout the custody period. We have a variety of microwaveable ready meals and the ever popular instant noodles. Any dietary requirements are noted and always catered for.
“Showers are available to all detainees and we will provide a towel and pre-packaged toiletries if requested.
“If a detainee has specific religious needs, we can provide what is necessary and have copies of various holy books and prayer mats which can be loaned for the duration of their time in custody.
“Should it be requested we can provide magazines and books that have been donated to us if a detainee wishes to be distracted while waiting in their cell. A local charity also supplies puzzle packs to help pass the time.
“Surprisingly a custody suite is usually not a noisy place to work in. The majority of detainees sleep the time away between interviews. That said, there will always be a few who like to make their presence known and will make as much noise as possible, shouting, swearing, banging on the door and throwing things around the cell. When this happens we will try to move those in the next door cell to a quieter area.
“Anyone who comes into custody regardless of the offences they are being held on suspicion of will be treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately the custody process can be a lengthy one depending on the investigation. It is my job, as a custody sergeant, to quell any anxiety and offer support and guidance to the detainee to help make the stay in custody as comfortable as possible.
“Occasionally frustration can get the better of some of those detained and officers and staff are subjected to verbal or physical abuse. This type of behaviour is not tolerated and action is taken against anyone committing these types of offences.
“Suspects will be interviewed by officers as the investigation dictates. One of my key duties is to ensure the investigation is being dealt with expeditiously and to engage and inform the detainee about what is happening.
“The length of time a suspect can remain in custody is governed by the PACE clock. A suspect can be held for up to 24 hours before they have to be charged with a crime or released. In the case of a more serious crime, a murder for example, the investigating team can apply to a Superintendent or Magistrate for extensions taking the total to 96 hours (four days).
“Once an investigation has concluded a decision will be made by either a police officer or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) depending on the severity of the crime.
“The outcome may be that a suspect is released with no further action – meaning the investigation is closed pending new evidence coming to light. They may be released under investigation while enquiries continue or bailed - bail can be either 28 days, during which time officers can continue to carry out enquiries under PACE or 12 weeks usually pending a decision by the CPS. If further enquiries are needed bail dates can be extended. Or, the detainee is charged with a crime.
“There can be a lighter side to the custody suite and I know some of my colleagues have found themselves faced with booking in people dressed as zombies, Banana-Man and Santa. In fact, the King himself has even made an appearance in custody before and yes, on that occasion, Elvis did leave the building!
“I enjoy my role in custody. I am fortunate to work alongside a fantastic group of professionals from who I have gained a wealth of knowledge to further my own professional development. Our team and other departments deliver a 24hr service working against the clock to reach a conclusion to benefit victims of crime.
“We meet some truly vulnerable members of society who come into our care and it is abundantly clear they need specialist support for their mental or physical health and we are a catalyst in obtaining the support and care they need. It is a unique position to hold and, although, in some ways, it can be incredibly stressful - it is also highly rewarding.”
A recent inspection of the force’s custody suites was carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). The report concluded that there were many positives that have come out of the inspection including identification of vulnerabilities, addressing the diverse needs of the public we serve and having tailored initial and ongoing training programmes for our staff.
Chief Inspector Natalee Wignall is the lead for Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Custody and Identification Units. She said: “I am really proud to see the custody suites providing a welcoming and caring environment for the management of detainees and for the joint working partnerships that we have. My teams are striving to improve the culture in custody to ensure we deliver a professional, efficient and happy service for the force”