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Tri-force custody arrangements raise concerns


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Inspection rates force as 'good' but weaknesses over complicated custody arrangements persist.

Tri-force custody arrangements raise concerns

Concerns continue to loom over a force’s custody arrangements following an HMICFRS inspection.

The report into police custody in Cambridgeshire concluded there is “generally impressive care” but issues remain over strategic governance.

The force entered into a formal collaboration with neighbouring Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces, under section 22A of the Police Act 1996, in which Hertfordshire took lead responsibility for provision of custody.

The inspection found there was insufficient governance and control over its day-to-day custody function with gaps in engagement and scrutiny at senior officer level between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, resulting in a lack of accountability.

Inspectors were also concerned to find minimum staffing levels within custody suites in Cambridgeshire were not always complied with.

“Staff cover was sometimes not sufficient to ensure safe detention, and this could have had an adverse impact on detainees,” it said.

“Until this is addressed, we believe that this will remain a block to the custodial function in Cambridgeshire becoming even better.”

In December, the tri-county’s Criminal Justice Unit also came under fire after three dangerous men were released on bail due to procedural failings.

The unit had failed to hand over information to the CPS in time for the trial to go ahead before the custody limit expired.

The men were originally due to stand trial in January but will now not appear again until March because of lengthy delays.

However, the report found many positive features in the way the custody services operated, delivering good frontline outcomes for detainees in a number of key areas.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and HM Inspector of Constabulary, Dru Sharpling, said: “We found that detainees in custody were held in reasonably good physical conditions. It was clear that the staff culture remained healthy and we were generally impressed with the care and attention that staff showed towards detainees.”

Detainees in custody in Cambridgeshire were held in reasonably good physical conditions with generally impressive care and attention from staff.

The force has improved its work in relation to mental health since a previous inspection in 2011, ensuring that few people were detained in police cells as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act.

Inspectors were also reassured to find that Cambridgeshire could demonstrate the use of force in custody was proportionate and the required governance and scrutiny processes were in place.

Overall, the report noted: “The picture surrounding the use of force in custody was positive and, while it reflected what we expect to see, we do not often find this.”

Cambridgeshire Constabulary Assistant Chief Constable Dan Vajzovic said: “Overall the inspection carried out by HMIP and HMICFRS into Cambridgeshire Constabulary's custody suites has been positive.

“We welcome their recognition that we have good levels of care and concern for the most vulnerable people we deal with and that, through effective partnership engagement, we have a strong focus on protecting and diverting vulnerable people from custody.

“We have worked hard since the last inspection in 2011 to focus our efforts on reducing the amount of time children spend in police cells and protecting those with mental health problems.

"As a result of our work with the liaison and diversion service, and the mental health staff in our control room supporting frontline officers, we have reduced the number of people held in custody under section 136 of the Mental Health Act as a place of safety.

“We acknowledge the inspector's area of concern and the recommendation, which we will be looking at, and we are already putting plans in place to improve in the areas highlighted.

“Improving how we deliver all of our services to the people of Cambridgeshire is important to us, and we welcome the findings of this inspection.”

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