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Custody cutbacks increases risk of officer assaults


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Custody issues have been exacerbated following Police Scotland's decision to scrap 118 PCSO vacancies, SPF chairman says.

Calum Steele

Prisoners being passed from one custody holding facility to another are a risk to the safety of officers.

Calum Steele, General Secretary for the Scottish Police Federation, says prisoners' patience is being tested by having to travel ‘unacceptably’ long distances.

Mr Steele told Holyrood’s Justice sub-committee on policing the fed recognised a dedicated custody division has meant custody care has improved, however, due to wider issues, prisoners’ rights are being diminished.

The significant reduction of custody centres has created circumstances where prisoners are now routinely transported over vast distances to be accommodated in cells.

Travelling these distances and delays at centres have resulted in prisoners being kept in vans or handcuffs for even longer, creating considerable stress for police officers as well as stress for prisoners, Mr Steele said.

“Even the patience and good will of the most compliant prisoner can be tested in these circumstances which increases the risk of assault and injury to police officers as well as the inevitable additional charges against the accused,” he added.

In 2013 there were 42 full-time and 60 part-time custody centres across Scotland processing around 200,000 detainees; there are now 35 full-time and 50 part-time centres.

Referring to the drop in numbers, Mr Steele wrote: “It is arguable that as a consequence the human rights of prisoners are being ignored.

“Prisoners are now routinely conveyed over vast distances to be accommodated in cells.

“Many prisoners are now conveyed for longer than could arguably be considered acceptable while in handcuffs, or insecure in a cage in the back of a police vehicle.

“This is a practice that prevails from the time of the original ‘lock-up’, as well as the now almost routine ritual of shunting prisoners from one custody holding facility to another.”

But fewer custody facilities, resulting in officers spending 'inherently wasteful' time with prisoners whilst trying to secure a cell, is just the tip of the iceberg and does not represent the full scale of the challenges faced by police officers.

According to Mr Steele, it is common for officers to have to wait for several hours to process prisoners, creating internal friction over who “owns” the processing responsibility.

Around 118 PCSO vacancies for Police Scotland have also been scrapped, the SPF understands.

“This implies there is no urgency to address the lack of custody staff anytime soon”, the report said.

It notes there could be financial reasons behind this, however the addition of 118 PCSOs would have benefitted local policing resources, and the decision to remove these vacancies has piled further demand on officers who ‘zig-zag’ the country with prisoners.

Mr Steele said: “Whilst the zig-zagging of the country with prisoners self-evidently results in significant diminution of local policing resources, that diminution is exacerbated with 118 police officers having to perform these duties in their place.

“We trust the committee recognises that as a direct consequence of diminished funding, coupled with what should be lauded as a desire to enhance prisoner welfare through a dedicated custody division, police officers and the police service are under intolerable pressures to the point where notwithstanding the best intensions and efforts of all involved, an unacceptably large number of prisoners are treated in a manner which in the view of the SPF, is completely incompatible with their human rights,” he added.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson said: "A number of unfilled vacancies across the organisation were deleted earlier this year as we began the process of transforming the service to deal with budget pressures and meet the aspirations of our 2026 policing strategy.

"This included posts in custody while we developed a new operating model‎.

"Since then we have introduced an additional 62 fully-trained staff into custody centres across Scotland with immediate effect and will be bringing in approximately 40 other staff incrementally over the first quarter of 2018 as we progress through this process of organisational change and service improvement."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have committed to protecting the police revenue budget in real terms, safeguarding policing from Westminster budget cuts and delivering an additional £100m of investment by the end of this Parliament, in addition to funding to support reform of £61m this year.

“Ministers have been clear in their continued calls for the UK Government to end the glaring VAT disparity which means the Scottish Police Authority is the only territorial police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT. This could see a cost to the Scottish public purse of £200m by the end of the current parliamentary session.”

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Sounds like coming on par with much of England and Wales as discussed in the other thread.

It is a concern I have with the long distances and delays, it tends to increase the risk to the prisoner particularly if they have been violent/drunk etc. Positional asphyxia is a concern.

However, as usual parts of the article will just turn people off and make them lose interest in the issue. No one really takes notice when people start going on about ‘human rights’ and the ‘patience’ of prisoners. To be honest the patience of the prisoner isn’t in the forefront of my mind really when dealing with an arrest, nor will it be in the mind of senior officers making these decisions.

As long as the force used is justified and proportionate including the use of handcuffs then there is no breach of human rights.

It is an issue nationwide which won’t change anytime soon sadly. Too much has been invested in the idea of these super custodies.


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