A SNAP inspection of police custody suites in the Warwickshire and West Mercia force areas found there was too regular use of inappropriate and disproportionate restraint techniques.
The inspectors also found that, despite arrangements that children should not spend a night in custody, 36 youngsters had been held in cells overnight in the 12 months before the visit.
The unannounced inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody.
Warwickshire and West Mercia police forces formed a strategic alliance in 2013 that included streamlining their custody suites into one operation and at the time of this visit the alliance between the two forces was still embedding.
Inspectors visited the custody suites at Worcester, Telford, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Kidderminster, Leamington Spa and Nuneaton.
They listed among their concerns:
1) The lack of dedicated custody inspectors to line manage the custody sergeants.
2) Existing data was not used to analyse custody records, use of force or complaints to improve organisational policies and individual actions.
3) Custody staff reported significant difficulties in obtaining appropriate adults for support to both children and vulnerable adults.
4) The quality of risk assessments was variable, particularly in West Mercia, and in one case a 14-year-old boy was identified as not being at risk despite his disclosure of very recent self-harm. He self-harmed within 15 minutes of being placed in a cell.
5) There was a disproportionate use of anti-rip clothing and specific concern about the use of the emergency restraint belt.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that custody sergeants and detention officers provided an adequate level of care, health care was very good, there were regular meetings with key stakeholders, and that nearly all those who detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act were taken to an NHS place of safety in accord with national policy.
Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary said: “There were significant gaps in the management structure and despite adequate care overall, weak oversight and partnerships had led to poor management of some vulnerable detainees, in some cases including children, and the much too regular use of inappropriate and disproportionate restraint techniques.”