Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Policing Powers Review

The Home Office consultation on policing powers and protection units is coming to an end shortly.

With rumours that Barry Custody Suite will be closed and that suspects from the Vale will be taken to Cardiff after the opening of the new Cardiff Bay Police station, this is an important topic.

Below are a number of comments on their suggestions:

1. That the power for approving extension of detention is lowered from Superintendent to Inspector and this can be carried out over the phone leaves the process open to abuse. Extending detention is a serious decision and one that should be made by a senior police officer only after carefully examining the case. It should not be trivialised in any way.

2. The use of short-term holding facilities for less serious offences is explained as being separate to arguments about police estate capacity, but you can’t help but feel that this is part of the issue.

The idea of the short-term holding facilities are to avoid the need for taking suspects to police stations when there is no need for an investigation, quickening processing and dealing with issues in a shorter time.

The operation of a short-term holding must be carefully monitored. Where, exactly, are these going to be sited, who will be responsible for their running, and, who, independently, will ensure that these safeguards are properly enforced.

If this policy is adopted then there should be a regular review of the operation of the short-term holding facilities.

3. Taking blood specimens for analysis is a very important issue in cases, especially drink-driving, and it is important that specimens are taken as quickly as possible.

The 2003 amendments to the 1988 Road Traffic Act allows either a medical practitioner or registered health care professional to take these specimens at a police station.

I have concerns that the need for speed and for ‘best use’ of police time lead to a dumbing down of technical responsibility and expertise within the custody area, and that this must be monitored.

4. Finally, forensic scientists have a dual responsibility to their patients and to the police regarding the suitability of a patient to reside in a police custody suite and fit for interview.

There are suggestions that the NHS will have the responsibility for carrying out treatments in future.

If so, who will make these crucial forensic decisions, bearing in mind that up to 60% of those arrested have chronic health problems and 40% have mental health problems.

Another issue here, of course, is the delineation between UK and Wales-spend with policing under UK control, but the NHS under the Assembly. If the NHS are going to have to carry out additional tasks then I hope that the UK Government will be increasing the block grant proportionately.

* With thanks to Cllr Shirley Hodges for her comments and bringing this issue to light.

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