Martin Luther King Jr once said to an audience; Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?
To look out for others and to contribute to my local community, I volunteer as an Independent Custody Visitor (ICV).
Following the Brixton and Toxteth riots, Lord Scarman recommended that in order to promote public confidence in policing, a system should be developed whereby policing activity should be made more publicly accessible, easily scrutinised and subject to greater questioning and comment. Over the years this has developed into the Independent Custody Visiting Schemes we now have and have become statutory requirement.
Independent Custody Visitors are members of the local community who volunteer to make unannounced visits to police stations to observe, comment and report on the conditions we find. We are primarily there to check on the welfare of people detained in police custody and to ensure that they have been provided their legal rights and entitlements. We visit in pairs and are provided with immediate access to the custody suite and consult with the detainees.
To me, the most important aspect of this role is Trust; this role is built upon trust.
ICVs are trusted by the wider community to represent them in custody, an environment which is the public don’t usually get to see. Knowing that members of your own community are attending the police station re-assures the public that the police are held to account.
ICVs are trusted by the police. We pick up when they may not have got things 100% correct and highlight learning points, but also ensure that the police are open and accountable. The Police trust that we will act with professionalism and will be their ‘critical friend’.
ICVs are also Trusted by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC). ICVs are an important part of the work of the OPCC. We assist the OPCC in scrutinising the Police’s performance and are trusted to accurately report any issues that arise during the visit. These reports feedback directly to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and can influence major decisions.
Finally, we are trusted by the detainees. The detainees are at the centre of our visits, we are there to ensure that they are being treated correctly. To ensure that the detainees can raise any issues, it is important that they understand that we are independent of the Police and everything they tell us is confidential.
It is a privilege to be able to enter people’s lives and to provide some reassurance at what is a very personal, and possibly the most vulnerable position they will ever be in. Some detainees are just happy to speak to someone for a couple of minutes.
No matter why someone is being detained by the Police, they are entitled to the same rights and the ICV team of volunteers are there to ensure that these rights are provided and play a valuable role in maintaining public confidence in this important area of the police.