As Police and Crime Commissioner, I have a number of roles. Amongst these are to be the eyes and ears of the public and to hold the Chief Constable to account. Independent custody visiting is central to helping me to fulfill these functions.
British policing has a strong history of being open and accountable to the public. The Police in Derbyshire often repeat the Peelian saying that the police are the ‘public in uniform’. My police force and the rest of the UK, do their job with the consent of the public. This is as it should be, but it isn’t always easy.
As APCC deputy lead for equality, diversity and human rights I understand how important it is that all communities have confidence in police. Independent Custody Visiting came about following riots in Brixton, Toxteth and Manchester in the 1980s that were, in part, based on distrust between non-white communities and the police. Independent custody visiting opens up the often hidden area of police custody to local volunteers who make unannounced visits to police custody, talk to detainees and ensure their human rights are upheld. It provides public reassurance that detainees are safe behind closed doors. My residents are able to check on the wellbeing of people detained in my area and I let the public know what they say.
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) make a difference in a number of ways. I visit the suites and I see the impact that an ICV can make. My ICVs show that members of the public care about detainee’s wellbeing. The visit itself can start with a very distressed detainee who is then cheered by speaking to someone who is monitoring their welfare. More than this, ICVs check that a detainee has what they need – this may be a meal, making sure someone knows they’re in custody or a blanket. These are small things that make a meaningful difference to a detainee.
Outside of the cell, ICVs raise any problems with the staff on duty. Much of the time, this is checking that safeguards are in place, and may mean ensuring that a child has seen an Appropriate Adult or that legal advice has been provided.
As a PCC, I am proud of my scheme managers and volunteers. They have a high quality scheme and really are the eyes and ears of the Derbyshire public in the cells.
I also need to hold the Chief Constable to account using their feedback. The ICV scheme is a statutory duty and I have a responsibility to publicly hold the Chief Constable to account. I am only as good as the information I have.
I am committed to ensuring that we get things right for vulnerable people. I wanted to understand what is happening in custody for children and those in poor mental health. I worked with my scheme managers and, with the support of the police; we led a new way of working with our ICVs to better understand custody. My scheme managers set up custody record reviewing. This format takes a new perspective on independent custody visiting. ICVs take a read through the full custody record of vulnerable detainees to check how they experienced custody, whether they received their rights, where things work and where they need to improve. More recently, we also introduced extended visits to custody where ICVs will continue to interview detainees, but also spend time observing custody and getting a better sense of culture, how detainees are managed and giving better opportunities to monitor treatment of vulnerable detainees who they may otherwise not have had the chance to visit.
This new method gives me a wider sense of what custody looks like. It assists me in my ability to hold the Chief to account. This may be on issues that appear small, but have big consequences if they go wrong. For example, I can ensure that the police are showing detainees how to use cell call bells. This may seem small, but it is fundamental to safe custody and will prevent harm. It also helps me to understand whether safeguards are in place. It tells how long vulnerable adults have to wait for an Appropriate Adult. This is important. As a PCC, I can work with partners to ensure that vulnerable residents get the services they need. The extended visits also let me know what the culture is in my custody suite. How police and staff treat people matters and my ICVs report that detainees are treated with dignity and respect. This is important to me.
I am passionate about sharing good work and my office is supporting ICVA and five other areas to see whether what we’ve done in Derbyshire can work elsewhere. I will watch this with interest.
As a PCC, I celebrate my volunteers. It is a joy to work with people dedicated to upholding the rights and wellbeing of others, regardless of the reason they may be in custody.
Custody is not something that most people ever think about. Custody suites don’t make headlines unless something goes wrong. However, thousands of people go through police custody every day. Detainees frequently suffer from poor mental health, are intoxicated or have complex problems and needs. The public rely on police custody as the gateway to justice and must be confident that it is working well. It is my responsibility to be sure that police custody cells in Derbyshire are safe and dignified. My ICV scheme delivers this and I am proud to be responsible for it.