ICVA often visits police custody to see what happens on the ground. We were delighted to meet a Sergeant in Dorset who shared her experiences on how police custody can be an opportunity for detainees to turn their lives around:
“I’ve been a Sergeant in Bournemouth Custody for over two years. Before this I have worked on a number of specialist areas of policing. For me, Custody represents endless opportunity and change. Here I make a real difference, protect the public and reduce offending.
To give an example of this I spent time talking to a 19 year old male who was detained in custody. He had a lack of support and was struggling with a difficult home situation. From taking a bit of time and chatting to him, I found out he was a chef. He told me he has nothing to live for and was very down. I talked to him about making a change and heading to London to work in some of the famous restaurants. I told him it was all out there and within reach. The next morning as he left custody he shouted back to me “Sarge, thank you. You have taken better care of me than my Mum has done in years”.
About six months passed and he called Dorset Police to pass a message to me that he was living and working in London. The message ended simply with “life is good”. Those three words meant so much to me. Being able to help that young man make a positive change was so rewarding and demonstrates the positive intervention Custody can be.
On a daily basis I see a wide variety of individuals, the one uniting factor is they are all in crisis and are often desperate to talk about their worries or anxieties. I met with the Bournemouth branch of the Samaritans to create a partnership and sought them attending custody as outreach. I explained my view that Custody is the frontline for people in crisis. Early on it was agreed that the Samaritans would remain confidential and separate to the Police. They agreed to come onto custody for a tour and from this I started a trial with two Samaritans attending for three hours once a month.
The Samaritans offer emotional support to all detained people as long as they are not violent. They also leave a contact card so if the person wishes to speak to them at a later date that support is ongoing. If an individual takes up the offer of emotional support this is carried out. Further to this we can arrange a call back service from the Samaritans once someone departs custody if they feel that support is beneficial.
The partnership has been running for a year and a half, from its small beginnings I now have 30 Samaritans signed up to carry out outreach in Custody. My approach has always been to cut bureaucracy and operate an open door policy where they are always welcome.
The partnership has gone from strength to strength and its absolute embedding in custody. We now benefit from the Samaritans visiting four times a week.
The overall effect of the Samaritans is they lower anxiety of detained persons, reduce self-harm and the block is a calmer environment. Ultimately the fact we now equip individuals with a coping strategy on departure is the right thing to do and it in turn will lower reoffending.
The reason for the success is the close partnership between Custody and Samaritans, respecting each other’s values.”