Today’s post is the first of a series of three concentrating on the theme of making an arrest. In this post I look at the circumstances under which police officers can make arrests and why we do it. On Wednesday I’ll be publishing a post on citizens arrests and then come Friday you’ll get a final post on how we deal with people once they’ve been arrested and brought into custody.
As a police officer I will, from time to time, arrest people. It’s a big part of my job and forms an important part of the investigative process. Speaking to members of the public though I often find that people do not really understand what it means to be arrested and the likely steps that we’ll take after making an arrest. I thought I’d use this blog entry to clarify the process a little for those who are curious, involved in an ongoing case or perhaps even liable to be arrested themselves.
Our powers of arrest come from S. 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This Act (‘PACE’ as we call it) is a fascinating bit of legislation governing everything from our powers of entry to searching, interviewing and making identifications of offenders.
S. 24 gives us the ability to make an arrest on suspicion that a person may have committed an offence, although it then goes on to state that we need to believe that it is necessary to make the arrest over other options.
Reasons that make an arrest ‘necessary’ are listed in the Act and include preventing damage occurring, stopping someone being injured and ensuring a ‘prompt and effective investigation’ which in plain terms usually means that the person needs to be interviewed on tape at a police station.
As we are able to arrest on suspicion, being arrested does not necessarily mean that a person is guilty and nor is it any kind of punishment. Rather it is a temporary deprivation of a person’s liberties judged necessary in the interests of justice.
Unless practicable the grounds of the arrest should be given to the arrested person at the time of their detention and then he or she should usually be taken to a police station where a custody sergeant will be told the grounds of the arrest and decide if said grounds are sufficient to authorise the person’s detention.
After this point the arrested person will likely be interviewed under caution, with a solicitor present if they choose, and asked questions about the offence for which they have been arrested.
If the officers dealing with person have further enquiries to make the person will then be returned to a cell whilst the officers do what they need to do.
The standard detention period is up to twenty four hours, which can be extended under certain circumstances, and whilst a person is detained they are entitled to meals and refreshments.
The custody sergeants are responsible for a prisoner’s welfare whilst at the station and so conduct regular checks and organise medical check ups if they are required.
Having completed their investigation, a decision then has to be made with regards to what to do with the prisoner.
If there is sufficient evidence a prisoner may be ‘charged’ meaning they’ll appear in court to answer the allegations that have been made. A prisoner who has been charged may then be released having been given a court date or instead ‘remanded’ in police custody as it is thought that if they’re released they may commit further offences.
Alternatively if the offence is minor a prisoner may be cautioned or fined and so not have to go to court.
A further option and the less desirable is that it is decided there’s insufficient evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a prisoner is guilty of an offence, hence no further action can be taken and the person released.
If officers have further enquiries to make which are likely to take them beyond a prisoner’s detention period a prisoner can be ‘bailed’ by which they are told to return to the station at a certain time and date, sometimes with conditions not to contact certain people or go to certain places.
The victim should be informed of bail conditions if they are set and a bailed person can be rearrested if they decide they don’t fancy complying with the conditions.
Of course as with anything legal, the above is really only a brief summary as there are all sorts of variations and subtle differences to the procedures depending on circumstances.
An arrest for a Breach of the Peace, an arrest of a drunken person, a juvenile or someone who does not speak English, as examples, will all take different forms and as such it’s important that officers know where the differences are likely to pop up as they can affect how a person will be dealt with post arrest.
I’m hoping that this post will have helped explain the process with a little more clarity and would encourage anyone geeky enough to check out the Police and Criminal Evidence Act itself as it goes into detail about the powers invested in police officers. Alternatively if you find that a little heavy going, I’m happy to answer any further questions you may have!