HMICFRS highlights concerns over recording of use of force in custody suites

While Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary has a clear governance structure for the safe and respectful provision of its custody services, it needs to improve how it governs and oversees its use of force, says HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Jul 9, 2024
By Paul Jacques

A joint inspection with the Care Quality Commission found the constabulary’s governance and oversight of the use of force in custody was not good enough.

“Incidents aren’t always managed well because there is limited oversight by custody officers,” said HMICFRS.

“There is limited recording on custody records and some incidents aren’t recorded at all. Use of force forms aren’t always submitted, and there is insufficient quality assurance to support effective scrutiny.

“The constabulary can’t show that when force is used in custody, it is necessary, justified and proportionate.”

While there were “no issues identified regarding any inappropriate use of force by officers and staff”, the inspectorate had recommended that Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary should scrutinise the use of force in custody based on “accurate information and robust quality assurance”.

HMICFRS also found “limitations to how the constabulary manages risk” in custody to keep detainees safe.

It says the constabulary should mitigate risk to detainees by making sure its risk management and release processes are safe.

Overall, though, the inspectorate found custody provision has improved since its last inspection, especially with regard to the physical environment and facilities in custody suites.

“There are strategic and operational meetings to oversee custody services, and we found senior leaders taking an active interest in custody,” it said.

Vulnerability training for custody personnel has been implemented and there is a “clear commitment” to monitoring custody outcomes to make sure they are fair.

Custody data is broken down by age, gender and ethnicity to assess any potential disproportionality in relation to some important activities such as strip searches and outcomes.

The constabulary also has a priority to divert children and vulnerable adults away from custody and the criminal justice system.

“There is a strong focus on only arresting children as a last resort,” said HMICFRS. “The constabulary has worked hard to make sure its frontline officers and custody officers do all that is possible to achieve this, including making referrals to diversionary schemes.”

Deputy Chief Constable Sam de Reya said: “The report from HMICFRS recognises the force delivers safe detention for the 25,000 people who every year come through our custody suites across our sites in Basingstoke, Portsmouth, Southampton and Newport.

“It highlights our clear governance structures, clean and respectful environment and comments on the quality of our care provision and facilities, including the support of a mental health nurse for those suffering from mental health episodes.

“Importantly, the inspection found our custody staff and officers were well trained and equipped to deliver in this important role for our communities, operating in accordance with the College of Policing code of practice.

“It also noted that our custody personnel are polite and treat detainees with respect and dignity, showing empathy and understanding towards them and their circumstances.

“Authorisation of detention is proportionate and appropriate and the inspection reflected positively on the work to divert children and vulnerable adults away from custody.”

She added: “As in all inspections there were areas for improvement which we have already responded to.

“One of these areas included the administration of how we record the use of force when someone is in custody. There were no issues identified regarding any inappropriate use of force by officers and staff and this recording process has now been strengthened.

“Use of force on a detainee is only ever done as a last resort and we have clear guidance, training and scrutiny to ensure when we do apply force, it is proportionate and necessary.

“We welcome the inspection in this important area of policing and the public can have confidence that when we use our policing powers to arrest and bring people into our custody suites, we will do so with compassion and care.”

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