The use of force in North Yorkshire Police’s custody suites is a cause for concern, say inspectors.
A report into the suites, in York, Harrogate and Scarborough, published today (Friday), says: “When force is used on detainees in custody it isn’t always managed well, and sometimes it isn’t proportionate to the risks or threats posed by the detainee.”
Inspectors said they reviewed 19 cases of force being used on CCTV.
“We saw some good communication, with officers de-escalating situations well and avoiding the need to use force,” inspectors said.
But they said restraint techniques “weren’t always often deployed correctly”.
“We saw instances where poor control techniques escalated incidents, leading to more force being used and an increased risk of injury to the detainee.
“In the cases we reviewed, force was often used to remove detainees’ clothing. It wasn’t always clear from the custody records, or from our observations on CCTV, why the removal was necessary and justified.
“In our view, the removal led to use of force that could potentially have been avoided. In addition, officers didn’t always maintain the detainees’ dignity well when removing their clothing.”
Questions about strip searches
The inspection was conducted jointly by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in June and July 2022.
North Yorkshire Police has 57 custody suites:
- York: 24 cells
- Harrogate: 16 cells
- Scarborough: 17 cells.
Inspectors said “staff were overstretched when the suites became busy”. They also had concerns about handcuffs and strip searches.
“Handcuffs aren’t always removed quickly enough from compliant detainees. The reasons why handcuffs have been used aren’t recorded, and the time at which handcuffs are removed isn’t recorded.
“The strip searches we reviewed were generally managed well and the dignity of the detainee was considered.
“However, it wasn’t always clear why a strip search was necessary, justifiable and proportionate. In our analysis of custody records, we found that the force had a high percentage of strip searches in custody compared to other forces we have recently inspected.”
The custody suite at York needs improvement and is on North Yorkshire Police’s “risk register”.
Inspectors said “there has been little investment in the custody estate since our last inspection in 2015, and some of the deficiencies we noted then remain”.
The report also has concerns about welfare checks of people in custody: “The management of risk isn’t good enough, and the force isn’t always assuring detainee safety,” it said.
“Detainee welfare checks aren’t always on time, carried out properly, or recorded accurately.”
And it says: “Children and vulnerable adults aren’t always receiving prompt support from an appropriate adult (AA). This hasn’t improved since our previous inspection.”
Inspectors were positive about aspects of the management of custody suites and detainees.
“The standard of care custody staff offer to detainees is very good,” they wrote.
“Detainees spoke positively about the care they received, and most were aware of the facilities and care available to them. We found that food and drinks, along with other care, such as showers, were regularly offered and provided.”
The police response
Elliot Foskett, Assistant Chief Constable at North Yorkshire Police, said: “We welcome the HMICFRS report, as it helps us to further understand how we can continue to improve our custody provision here in North Yorkshire Police.
“Working within the legislative framework, our absolute priority is the safety and welfare of detainees, avoiding any adverse level of risk.
“It is acknowledged that some processes, such as the recording of information, are not of the highest possible standard and this is something we have already started to look at.
“We are pleased the HMICFRS has recognised we have good measures in place to oversee the safe and respectful provision of custody.
“It’s also good to see the acknowledgement of the good work of our custody staff in relation to how they deal with detainees respectfully, patiently, and reassuringly, recognising the array of diverse needs.”
You can read the full report here.