Wellbeing Dogs – The story of Rocky The #CustodyDoggo


December 8, 2020

Custody Inspector Jason Wilson

  • guest blog

I remember October 2012 very well indeed.

It was the month I collected an 8 week old Labrador puppy to take home to be a family pet. I’d never had a dog before and in truth was not completely sold on the idea but my daughter tactically (and emotionally!) outmanoeuvred me. My only real say in becoming a dog owner would be ‘naming rights’.

The name was never in doubt, it was always going to be Rocky. Named after one of my favourite movies and as a good a doggo name as you will find. Little did I know how integral Rocky would become to my myself, my family, and also to my work life.

For the past three years I have been a ‘Custody Inspector’ with Sussex Police. A challenging and rewarding role overseeing Crawley Custody Centre – a 26 cell custody block located in the centre of the very busy and diverse Crawley town centre and within a stone’s throw of Gatwick airport. You work very closely with your colleagues in that type of environment and it soon became known that I had a doggo at home so it wasn’t long before yet again I found myself under pressure!

With some reservations I first took Rocky into work and into the custody centre in November 2018. Any concerns I had were very quickly allayed! Rocky was an absolute natural.

He loved the attention from staff within the block, one or two in particular took a real shine to him and encouraged me to officially introduce #CustodyDogDays! In addition to his time in the block Rocky would quite often be ‘dognapped’ by other departments to provide a few moments light relief for those involved in long shifts and complex investigations. However it turned out that one of his favourite things to do was to accompany me around the block whilst I conducted ‘Inspector reviews’ – visiting detainees in their cells, reminding them of their rights, entitlements, and checking on their welfare.

I would obviously always check with a detainee first that they are ‘Ok with dogs’ and thankfully without exception every single person always was – and then I would let Rocky in to see them whilst I conducted the review. Rocky was a talking point, common ground between two human beings, something to take people’s mind off their immediate concerns and cheer them up in a way that only a friendly dog saying hello can.

Being ‘in custody’ is a challenging and often pressurised place to be. Those that have been arrested are understandably vulnerable to stress / anxiety while the investigation is being conducted. It very quickly became apparent that Rocky was a natural born ‘de-escalator’. Visibly and tangibly reducing stress / anxiety in detainees, enabling more constructive conversations that facilitated an easier custody process for all involved.

Literally not a cross word was ever uttered in his presence – by anyone. So Rocky’s ‘one off’ visit escalated quickly…I took him in a couple of more times, and then regularly, maybe once a week, to the point where the first thing people asked me was whether I had brought Rocky in? And if I said no I felt bad all day for letting them down!

Over the past few months I have been working on a force project across all of the six Sussex Custody Centres, which has seen Rocky widening his tour of duty, and in January he is going ‘cross border’ to visit colleagues at Salfords Custody Suite in Surrey. Thankfully Sussex Police and in particular Chief Constable Jo Shiner have been very supportive of Rocky and Wellbeing Dogs in general. So the story of Rocky the #CustodyDoggo has a way to go yet, and I sincerely hope that he continues to live his best life with me – both at home and at work!

And as Rocky himself would say – Must be time for a biscuit