Hydra Training for Custody Staff – ICVA Observes…


October 28, 2021

  • custody
  • custody visits
  • detainee welfare
  • police custody
  • Training

Recently I was delighted to attend Surrey Police HQ to observe the new College of Policing Hydra training for officers going to work in custody suites. I had very limited understanding of what Hydra training was, and what it would look and feel like so was fascinated to go and see how this would work for the new custody staff.

Hydra training is essentially immersive training, it seeks to replicate some of the experiences of being a member of custody staff at the booking in desk, and this Hydra module particularly focuses on the management of risk and multiple detainees.

So, how does this work?

Well, there are several areas in the training space, with a control desk room, breakout or subgroup rooms and the main group or plenary space. All rooms have quite a bit of technology including screens, cameras and microphones. Attendees all begin the session together and the scene for custody is set by giving everyone an overview of the detainees in custody and any issues. They are then spilt into small groups, (on this day groups of 4) and the attendees are sent off to their rooms.

What happens in each of the rooms?

Control room

Here is where the trainers sit! They can see each of the subgroup rooms on screens, listen in to conversations and answer questions that the groups pose by typing into the dashboard screens. The trainers also control the pre-recorded video elements of the training, so they can interrupt the staff discussions by playing a phone call from a solicitor/parent or similar, given feedback from healthcare staff or a new detainee arriving to be booked in to really give the feel of being in a live custody suite with plenty going on! They beam these clips into the rooms where the subgroups need to respond. They can set the timings for the exercises and manage the flow of information to the attendees. They can also set a screen to pop up with a task that the attendees must complete. Both trainers had extensive experience of custody, which meant they knew how best to recreate the busy environment.

Subgroup rooms

Each of the rooms for subgroups is fitted with a large screen, with a keyboard on the table. There is a dashboard on the screen, with places where information comes in, places for the custody staff to record information and places where they can ask questions/make requests to care for detainees effectively and to give them the information they need. The dashboard also had copies of the PACE Codes and the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice (APP) to help guide their practice.

For each decision made during a session, the attendees must record the pertinent information, and anything they have considered, before then going on to record their decision. This might be a decision on risk levels, on more information being required, assessments by third parties or a host of other activities custody staff may need to determine. Each decision must have this rationale. Whilst the attendees are considering a decision on one detainee those pesky people in the control room are likely to interrupt with a video clip with more/new info/a task, a new detainee or feedback from assessments so it is all go!

Plenary/Main Group Room

In Surrey, this main group room had a projector and speakers so that observers like me and others who had helped design the training could observe, with the ability to focus in on one group and listen to how they were making their decisions. This room also showed the pop-up video clips and tasks. The main group room is also where the feedback/plenary sessions took place (more on those later) and where group discussions were facilitated by the trainers.

My Reflections

Whilst I can’t give any details of the scenarios used for the training (ICVA doesn’t want to get a reputation for spoilers), it is fair to say that in my opinion the detainees (played by actors) and the issues presented to the staff all absolutely reflect people and decisions that I would expect to see in a real custody suite. There was a real focus from the training package to train staff to deal effectively with vulnerability in police custody in a variety of ways which is absolutely welcomed.

I think that the training sessions in the subgroup really started to give people a feel for what it is like to be working the custody desk, with competing demands on time, needing to make risk-based decisions and recording information in custody records effectively when interrupted fairly frequently. Suffice to say (without ruining the training for others) that I think the trainers were if anything too kind on the interruptions, a busy suite might have many more!

The plenary sessions were really interesting, as often the groups had made slightly different choices on some of the outcomes for detainees or had assessed levels of risk differently. The trainers facilitated these discussions and their knowledge of not only the custody environment, but also PACE Codes and the APP ensured that all attendees were aware of best practice in a non-judgemental way.

Overall, I thought that this was a great piece of training. Custody staff often have a great deal to manage in an often loud and sometimes chaotic environment. The focus on vulnerability and risk throughout the exercises is a great area to focus on. I was particularly pleased to see a focus on detainee dignity from trainers and attendees throughout, something which is absolutely key to everything ICVA does and to the work of the independent custody visitors.