POLICE in Northumberland have been criticised for a ‘disproportionate’ use of handcuffs following a review of custody suites by HM Inspectors.
The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and covered eight 24-hour custody suites, including Bedlington, and three part-time suites, one of which is in Alnwick.
Carried out by Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, the report said there were some areas of good practice, but several important areas which needed to be addressed.
They said: “Overall, police custody in Northumbria was adequate, but problems were evident in some important areas. Detainees were generally treated respectfully and their basic needs were provided for, but this was too often at the initiative of the detainee rather than custody staff.
“Conditions varied from good to poor, and the inconsistent application of risk assessment processes was a significant area of concern. We consider the routine use of handcuffing to be disproportionate, and more needs to be done to support those with mental health issues.
“This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police Authority to improve provision further. We expect our findings to be considered in the wider context of priorities and resourcing, and for an action plan to be provided in due course.”
Positive areas for mention were good strategic leadership of the custody function, adequate staffing and training, respectful interactions with detainees and good arrangements for managing DNA and forensic samples. Health care provision was good, while medications management was excellent and substance use services were well developed.
Areas of concern included risk assessments of detainees received into custody being completed inconsistently, booking-in arrangements allowing only limited privacy, a disproportionate use of handcuffs with little consideration of risk and information about rights and entitlements not being universally provided.
In response to the report, Northumbria Police Superintendent Vince Stubbs said: “Custody suites are very busy, dynamic operational environments and there were more than 72,000 detainees processed through them last year. We take our commitment to the welfare of all detainees very seriously and welcome the findings in today’s report, which highlights what we do well and areas where we can improve.
“A full review of our custody provision was ongoing at the time of the inspection and steps have already been taken to improve our custody services, including the appointment of a Custody Inspector at each area command and an overall Force Custody Manager.
“We do continually look to improve the custody facilities we have and in November 2010 opened a new 40 cell custody complex in North Tyneside and have a planned new 50 cell custody suite due to open in Newcastle in 2014.”