Hooray for the voluntary sector!


January 3, 2019

Chief Executive Officer

  • blogging
  • chief executive
  • custody
  • custody visits
  • partnership

Happy New Year!  I hope that you had a good festive season and are all ready to go for 2019.

I was working for much of the break, for the most part studying, and exploring both ICVA’s strategy and finance management.  Working throughout the holiday is not unusual in the police custody world.  Through the magic of social media, I could see police, police staff, medical staff and others reporting in for their shifts.  Lovely messages where they send colleagues home to their families on Christmas Day and generally taking care of one another.  I felt in good company.

This feel good factor was in sharp contrast to my study.

I am studying business and am therefore working with colleagues across a number of sectors, but primarily the private sector, and primarily focussed on profit making.  Whilst I know that there are many excellent companies out there doing great things, this has also been quite a culture shock for me.

We are partly assessed on joint work and presentations.  In one such experience, a team member asked why they should put their own neck on the line in a joint piece of work.  Other case studies have stated clearly that they are focussed on a single goal of making money and some of the theorists we look at argue that businesses do not have any responsibility beyond profit making.

This has all been jarring to my working life.

Working in the voluntary sector is a delight.  I have never once come across anyone who has refused work because they don’t want to put their neck on the line.  By way of contrast, five schemes and around 100 volunteers have recently completed research with female detainees.  This required extra training, discussions, collecting data and inputting it into spreadsheets.  I never once came across resistance to the project, only proactive offers of support, high quality work and suggestions for improvement.  How great is that?

Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) take time out of their personal lives and will have broken away from festivities to visit police custody this Christmas.  This is not unusual, this is something that we know ICVs view as part of their role.  They will plan their visits around busier or important times to ensure that they get full oversight of custody and, moreover, to ensure that their visits are truly unannounced.  They do this as volunteers.  This is a far cry from demanding profit.  They do this because they are part of the local community and want to invest in it.

I have been studying the idea of ‘black swans‘ or unforeseen events.  We have been exploring the 2008 financial crisis.  For some more relaxed analysis, I watched Big Short.  The film outlines how different actors in a wider system were behaving unethically or where problems existed.  It argues that you could see the crash coming, if only you looked.  I reflected on systems and how they can obscure problems, we don’t always see our impact on others, we can’t always see the bigger picture.  This is another reason why ICVs and ICVA are in place.  ICVs come into custody as outsiders, they aren’t part of the system and they are in place to challenge and to critique it, to stop bad habits becoming embedded. ICVA, in turn, can pick out national patterns and problems.  Our fantastic Chief Operating Officer recently noticed issues around detainee dignity – pulling out a pattern of problems across various different reports.  We were able to make some noise about this and, thanks to the NPCC National Custody Forum, are now on a police led working group that is specifically setting up systems to embed and measure detainee dignity.  A win for all concerned.

Finally, I have been grateful for working in an area that is solution focussed.  We don’t sit down and apportion blame.  We sit, look into problems and try to find ways to solve them.  Custody suites are complex, things can go wrong for many different reasons and people can have the best of intentions.  I am working with a scheme that has identified long waits to get Appropriate Adults (AAs) to vulnerable detainees.  The police force in question didn’t look to blame their staff for this, but went right to understanding the issue and finding a solution.  Waits for AAs have dropped and detainees are getting the protection they are entitled to much quicker.  This is not unusual, this is the culture we work in.  The scheme had the respect of their force, the data to back up their concerns and have monitored its resolution.  Perfect.

It’s nice to occasionally step back and think about what we do.  It’s even better to reflect on how amazing our volunteers and partners are.  Every time an ICV goes on a visit overnight, every time a scheme manager contacts us with a niggling doubt, every time a human rights organisation or partner advises us on what can and should happen, every time the police support a positive change, I am so proud.  Our colleagues want change for the better, they are driven and frequently go above and beyond.  So, let’s take a but of time to reflect on that and be grateful.  Thank you so much to all of our partners and here’s to a successful 2019.