Independent Custody Observers Pilot (ICOP) – An Update from ICVA’s CEO


October 7, 2020

Chief Executive

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Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) are amazing people.  They give up their own time to visit police custody, speak to detainees and recommend changes.  ICVs are valued by the offices that run the schemes (usually Police and Crime Commissioners, but sometimes police authorities and policing boards) and make a real difference to custody.

For the past few years, we have been working with groups of ICVs who wanted to have another look at how they visited custody and to see whether they could add to this.  Derbyshire OPCC led and designed the initial project, working with their ICVs to examine custody records (known as Custody Record Review) and add new elements to their visits to custody.  As Derbyshire honed their new methodologies, we worked with them to share their findings with five further schemes (Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Humberside, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire) who joined a pilot to see whether what had begun in Derbyshire could translate elsewhere.

The pilot (referred to as ICOP) asked ICVs to look through a sample of complete custody records for children and those in poor mental health.  ICVs read through the custody records (redacted of personal information) and were able to answer questions and comment on detainee treatment.  ICVs in some schemes also took part in extended visits, observing key parts of the custody process.

The pilot areas welcomed an independent evaluator to observe their work and deliver an evaluation.  This assessment consulted participating ICVs, scheme managers and police officers and analysed data and action from the pilot.  The evaluation found that schemes were able to uncover issues that they had not been able to do through the traditional methodology.  For example, finding that reviews were not happening on schedule.  The data that ICOP provided enabled scrutiny of key areas of custody including waiting time for solicitors and Appropriate Adults or on local authority accommodation for children.  In doing so, ICOP provided one area with the data it needed to evidence problems accessing local authority overnight accommodation for children, as required by law and the Children’s Concordat.  In doing so, it informed partnership discussions and joint problem solving.  The pilot also pointed to strategic issues such as access to Appropriate Adults for vulnerable detainees, a finding that has been reflected in national research.  The evaluation was also able to point to subsequent improvements in custody as a result of the pilot as these issues were confronted and work conducted to resolve them.

The pilot provided rich data that broadened, strengthened and enhanced the pilot schemes’ knowledge of what was happening in their custody suites.  We are impressed and pleased by the picture the pilot presented in custody.  It equipped schemes with data to make recommendations for improvements and demonstrated real value in the investment that they made.

Pleasingly, ICVs who took part in the evaluation universally welcomed taking part in the pilot, seeing it as a way to strengthen their understanding of police systems and processes and attaining a deeper and broader level of scrutiny.  They also welcomed the relationship-building with sergeants and inspectors during the pilot.  The evaluation also finds police support for ICOP from those involved in the pilot or in raising scrutiny of custody, seeing ICVs as an extra pair of eyes who can drive how things are done.

The pilot was not always easy.  We are full of praise for scheme managers who trained volunteers and worked with police contacts to develop new processes and ways of working as well as feeding back results.  ICVs, too, were brilliant, open to trying out new ways of working and getting to grips with reading and understanding custody records.  ICVs gave up their time to do something meaningful and, for that, we are always grateful and proud.

All participating schemes have said that the changes they made in the pilot are here to stay for their schemes.  We would like share a huge thank you with the scheme managers, ICVs and other stakeholders who have got us this far as well as to the schemes who have picked up and run with parts of the new methodology since then.  You have given your time and ideas to improve police custody and that’s an amazing thing to do.

We’ve kept schemes updated as we’ve gone – through our scheme managers’ conference, newsletters, blogs and meetings.  As COVID19 hit, more schemes started using the Custody Record Review process to monitor custody as face-to-face visits were more challenging.  Pleasingly, schemes have reported back changes instigated by the new methodology – including strengthening work on religious and hygiene requirements.

We are considering what to do next.  Schemes will be aware that we are discussing next steps with other national organisations involved in custody, including the Home Office, APCC and NPCC.  The piloted changes are not included within the current Code of Practice, which governs independent custody visiting.  The Code will need to be reviewed and revised to allow the pilot to be rolled out further.  The current Code of Practice has been in place since 2013 and we welcome the opportunity to review it and to enable and empower schemes to implement the ICOP methodologies.  The Code of Practice is issued by the Secretary of State and owned by the Home Office and any decision to review or amend it rests with them and, if occurs, will run by normal Government timetables and requirements.  In the current COVID19 situation, this is likely to take some time as we all juggle different priorities.  We will, of course, keep schemes updated on our work and any decisions that are made.

Should ICOP be rolled out further, we will be with schemes every step of the way.  ICV schemes do a tremendous job and this has become even more clear across COVID19 where scheme managers and ICVs have adapted their methodology and kept oversight of custody going.  Their insights have been hugely valuable and praised across a range of national organisations.  We are conscious that all schemes are balancing high workloads, losing ICVs and adapting working to COVID19.  We will consult schemes throughout the process to ensure that we provide the support they need and will keep this at the forefront of our minds as we provide resources, training and guidance.

Any change will take time.  At our best guess, any roll out is likely to take a minimum of a year to go live and this may well be longer, depending on COVID19.  We are conscious that a number of schemes are already using the methodology in response to COVID19, which will help schemes to become familiar with the Custody Record Review methodology and is a good step along the way.

It has been a real pleasure to work with the pilot schemes and those using Custody Record Reviews over the past few years as well as our stakeholders and evaluators.  It is clear how much everyone involved values independent custody visiting for the positive change it creates.  ICOP has been a brilliant opportunity to review, reflect and change, acknowledging the complexity of modern custody and investing in schemes for the future.  With these principles in mind, we are sure that our work with schemes and partners will continue to ensure an open, transparent custody process that is strengthened by community scrutiny.