Posts Tagged 'detention'

I’ll be watching you…

Ariel Castro’s suicide in his prison cell highlighted the difficulties of safeguarding the welfare of detainees.

Only weeks after his sentencing to life imprisonment for holding women captive at his house in Ohio, Ariel Castro was able to hang himself whilst unattended in his cell.

No matter what the allegation or conviction, deaths of people in custody are always a tragedy and deeply regrettable as such.

When a person is brought into police custody in England & Wales, the first thing that the sergeant will do is to conduct a risk assessment with the aim of establishing what steps might need to be taken to manage any vulnerabilities.

A series of medical questions are asked to identify any conditions or medication that might need to be addressed whilst a person is detained.

Their mental welfare will likewise be carefully considered, the circumstances of the arrest, offence, and previous indicators suggesting self harm (marks on wrists, warning markers on their record etc) all contribute to a the risk assessment.

With the information collected, the sergeant then has to make a decision about how best to manage the prisoner’s welfare.

If medical conditions have been raised as an issue, it might be that they’ll need to be seen by a nurse or doctor prior.

When self harming presents itself as a possibility, the sergeant has to choose the appropriate level of observations under which to keep the prisoner for the duration of their stay.

There are four incremental levels that apply as set out in the beefy Safer Detention guidelines, they are -

  • Level one (General observation) -  The prisoner will be visited once an hour
  • Level two (Intermittent observations) - Once every half an hour the prisoner will be visited and roused
  • Level three (Constant observations) - The prisoner is visited as above but also watched at all times e.g. via CCTV
  • Level four (Close proximity observation) – Someone will sit with the prisoner at all times and personally supervise them

Because risk assessment is an ongoing process, risk levels can vary as a person’s detention continues with their demeanour improving or worsening.

Cell watches are not the most glamorous part of the job and will either be conducted by custody staff or police officers, depending on staffing.

They too can be very difficult to manage, I’ve spent some shifts sat in cells with prisoners physically holding their arms and reassuring them to prevent them harming themselves by punching out at the walls.

Managing a high risk detainee is no enviable task and is as the case outside of custody, if someone if set upon harming themselves then it can be very challenging to prevent them doing so.

We take detainee welfare very seriously and whilst no cell can be truly suicide proof, we do all we can to ensure that the ‘death in custody’ is as rare an event as is possible.

Please release me, let me go…

We use bail as we’re not always able to keep people in the cells for as long as we need to complete enquiries. How does bail work then?

At the time I write this, I have four people on bail to myself including one who ought to have answered his bail on Sunday but decided he had better things to do and as such, is now wanted.*

They’ve all been arrested for a variety of different offences and for one reason or another, needed to be released so that a few enquiries could be completed prior to me being in a position to give a decision on their case disposal.

Police use of bail has been in the news recently after the BBC found that there are at least 57,000 people on bail and that over 3000 of those have been waiting on bail for over six months.

With specific reference to the length on which some people are kept on bail, the longest being nearly four years, the Law Society has even suggested a limit to bail length of twenty eight days.

What is bail though and how does it get used during the course of our investigations?

Simply put, us police officers ‘bail’ folk who we have arrested simply because we are not in a position whilst they are in custody to give a definitive decision on whether that person may be charged, released without charge or given some other disposal such as a caution.

To bail means that we’re telling a prisoner ‘we’re letting you out the cells but we’ve got enquiries to do that can’t be done whilst you’re staying with us so go away and come back at such and such a time’.

Referring back to my earlier blog on the custody procedure, the longest we can usually keep someone in the cells before either charging or releasing them is twenty four hours.

In relation to a complicated case, twenty four hours is a much shorter time than it first may appear and so it’ll often not be possible to complete all of the necessary enquiries inside that time.

As examples for why I’ve had to bail some of my prisoners recently, one was so I could gather more evidence from outstanding witnesses in the form of statements, another was so that a co-offender could be traced and a further was so that exhibits could be submitted for lab analysis.

Enquiries such as these can take much longer than the maximum amount of time on the ‘custody clock’ and so we have to use bail to accommodate them.

The complicated the investigation, the longer the enquiries are likely to take and so accordingly, the longer the amount of time that a suspect may need to be kept on bail until police are in a position to charge or otherwise.

In the case of the male on bail for nearly four years, reference is made to it being in relation to a fraud case.

Possibly the most complicated of the enquiries police are likely to carry out, there could be thousands of financial documents, multiple victims across several countries and a network of other offenders involved hence it’s exactly the sort of the investigation that will take a long time if it’s to be done thoroughly.

Bail can either be ‘conditional’ or ‘unconditional’, the latter being slightly misleading as one condition will always be that the released person surrenders themselves back into custody at a specified time and date.

As for ‘conditional’ bail, we’re able to place certain restrictions on the activities of a bailed person to help prevent them causing problems whilst released.

Common bail conditions that we use include having to live and sleep at a set address, observe and curfew, not visit a certain area and/or not to contact any persons we name on their bail sheet.

Where necessary, bail conditions can be far more extensive as in the case of Abu Qatada who had a huge list of restrictions imposed last year including not using the internet, only having one bank account and surrendering his passport.

Such conditions are justified on the basis that they may be necessary to help prevent further offences, protect witnesses or to discourage suspects from meddling with the course of justice.

In the West Midlands, supervisors are designated to keep an eye on bail lengths with the usual preference being to keep them as short as is reasonable.

It’s recognised that the conditions will have an impact on those released from custody, at the same time a balance has to be struck between this consideration and the fact that we need the time to complete enquiries to a high standard.

My four ‘bailers’ had all been given bail dates within four weeks or so of having been released, not wanting to extend their time on bail any further than is absolutely necessary, it’s now down to me to get the outstanding enquiries complete ahead of them returning to the station.

* You know who you are and if you’re reading this, pop into Bloxwich Police Station ASAP and we’ll get it sorted!

Not guilty, no use handing me a writ while I’m trying to do my bit…

Today’s post has been written in response to the news published today that a suspected burglar has been shot during an incident in Worcestershire. As this is a developing story the details are rather scarce and whilst it is not clear at the current time exactly what had happened, I anticipate that the report is likely to bring back into focus the debate on what housekeepers can do to protect their properties and how the police deal with such reports.

Whilst I am going to touch on what the law says about what you can – and perhaps more importantly can’t – do if you’re unfortunate enough to confront a burglar in your house, the main aim of this post is to explain why it is the case that victim may end up being arrested along with the burglar himself.

To do this I’m going to consider the widely reported case of the burglar, John Bennell, who was stabbed by Peter Flanagan during a raid on his Salford home back in June this year. Below is the ITN report on the original incident.

On attending a report of an incident during which someone has received a serious injury or has been killed, it is the role of the police to establish exactly what has happened and under what circumstances.

Whilst media reports of incidents involving home owners using force against intruders ofter portray the matter as a black and white ‘got what he deserved for breaking in’ story, for the officers first on the scene things are rarely as simple and we need to look at the evidence in front of us to establish what has really happened.

People rarely tell us the whole truth and as such we become very skeptical about accepting a version of events without there being something to support it, without the account being tested and compared with those of others so that we can establish some idea about the account’s veracity.

Put simply, if we walk into a house and find a body and someone standing over them with a knife we can’t take their word that the deceased was a burglar and stabbed in self defence.

As we need to be sure that things have indeed happened as the homeowner has claimed, we need to be looking at preserving the scene and asking the homeowner some questions. Because we suspect that homeowner has – rightly or wrongly – killed the intruder we need to be interviewing the homeowner about the matter on tape.

For these reasons – because we need to preserve the scene, gather the evidence and interview – we need to consider arresting the homeowner as again at this point we can’t be entirely sure what has happened.

If you caught my previous blog about arrests, you might remember that we can arrest on suspicion of an offence. This means that being arrested doesn’t necessarily carry an implication of guilt, only that we have reason to suspect a person may have been involved in the commission of a crime.

Having fully investigated what has happened and taken a full account of the incident from the arrested person, we’re then likely to need to consult the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with our evidence.

It is the CPS who decide firstly whether there is enough evidence to take the matter to court and secondly – and crucially in cases such as that considered – is it in the public interest to do so?

Relevant to the use of force by homeowners (or indeed anyone else) is S. 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967. It basically allows anyone to use ‘such force as is reasonable’ in the prevention of a crime. The CPS have to look at the case, decide whether the evidence gathered supports the homeowner’s account of events and then consider whether their action was ‘reasonable’ in the given circumstances.

I’ve touched briefly on what may be considered ‘reasonable’ in a previous blog and will say now as I’d said then that the topic could not be done justice over several blogs, let alone a paragraph. Furthermore I wouldn’t even feel qualified to write about it with any authority, such an involved topic it is. I would say though that the easiest way to define a ‘reasonable’ use of force is that the force used was necessary and proportionate to the threat faced and absolutely no more.

Should the CPS, having considered the facts of the case, be satisfied that the actions of the homeowner were necessary, they can rule than a prosecution would not be in the public interest and any charges considered be dropped.

Crucially they cannot make such a decision without a detailed, impartial police investigation beforehand.

On the face of it I can understand that the police arresting someone for ‘protecting their home and family’ may seem contrary to what appears right. It is, however, in the interests of all parties that the matter is fully investigated so that the CPS can act to do the ‘right’ thing.

Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free…

After a couple of recent posts about arrests, I thought it might be interesting to explore what actually happens to an arrested person once they arrive at the block. To do this I’m going to again call upon the assistance of my less than glamorous colleague, Billy, who for whatever reason is currently sitting handcuffed in the rear of a police car and is shortly going to arrive at Walsall Police Station.

Prior to our arrival we will have radioed the control room to inform them that we have ‘one in custody’ and have asked if Walsall are prepared to accept a prisoner. They are and so are awaiting our arrival. Upon pulling up at the door to the block we’ll press the buzzer so the custody staff can let us in and then will sit in the holding area until we are called through to the custody desk.

Depending on how busy the cells are we may be here for a little while so remove Billy’s handcuffs and settle down. We’re not allowed to talk about the offence for which Billy has been arrested but Billy is in a talkative mood and in the course of our conversation unwittingly gives us some very useful information about who’s up to what in his area.

We’re then called round and present Billy to the custody sergeant who asks Billy for his name and date of birth so that he can check the computer to see if Billy is known. Billy is then asked a series of questions about his health and welfare so that the sergeant can judge what risk he might pose to himself or others whilst detained.

The sergeant also authorises us to search Billy to confirm that he is not carrying on his person anything dangerous or prohibited before asking Billy to remove all of his valuables and booking them into property.

The custody sergeant then asks us for the circumstances of the arrest, that is why we suspect Billy to have been involved in the commission of an offence and why we have deemed it necessary to arrest him. Happy that our reasons are sound, the sergeant then informs Billy that he has certain rights and entitlements whist detained.

These are to have someone informed of his arrest, to consult with the codes of practice governing the custody procedure and finally to have access to free and independent legal advice.

In plain terms these rights usually translate as a phone call, access to a copy of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and representation by a solicitor, although they can be delayed if the offence is serious enough and there is a risk the investigation will be adversely affected by not doing so.

Billy is then taken by a member of the custody team to have his fingerprints and photograph taken. Both are performed digitally with the electronic fingerprint machine running a check to confirm that Billy is indeed who is says he is.

This completed, Billy may, depending on why he has been arrested, have to participate in a drugs intervention program which involves him being tested for the presence of controlled substances. Failing this simple test means he then has to attend a consultation with a drugs worker and can be arrested if he decides he’d rather not go.

Irregardless of the reason for his arrest, Billy will be offered the chance to speak to a drugs worker from Addaction who have an office in the block itself and work with prisoners to address their substance abuse issues.

The above processes completed, Billy is now cell bound until the arresting officers are ready to deal with him.

If Billy is drunk when brought into custody he’ll have to sleep off the effects before he can be dealt with. Drugs or injuries often mean a medical professional will have to visit the cells to assess Billy’s health.

A serious offence might require the seizing as evidence of Billy’s clothing meaning he’ll have to make do with a less than fashionable green paper suit to wear for the rest of his stay.

Self harm issues may mean than Billy has to be observed via CCTV camera or a custody officer sitting at the door of his cell on a constant watch.

So this is the initial custody procedure pretty much completed for Billy. He’ll now be sat in a rather small cell with a bed, toilet and little else to occupy him other than his thoughts. Officers will deal with him as soon as they are ready, usually by means of a taped interview, but for the time being he’s in for a long wait!

The warden threw a party in the county jail…

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.

Dancin' to the jailhouse rock!

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!


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