Custody ‘seen as a punishment posting’

12 September 2017


Nearly one in five (18.9%) custody officers want to be redeployed away from detention duties as soon as possible.
And nearly three-quarters (73.1%) of officers not currently in a custody role say they would never want to do that job.

These survey results back up the long-held view that custody is still perceived as a ‘punishment posting’ by many.  By comparison, less than 2% of firearms officers want to switch jobs.

The current-day custody climate is revealed in our annual Pay and morale survey which included custody-specific questions for the first time. More than 30,000 officers, equivalent to 25% of all federated ranks, took part.

Andy Ward, Police Federation Deputy General Secretary and custody lead said: “Custody is one of the most challenging areas of policing with potentially serious ramifications if anything goes wrong. The responsibility is enormous in trying to look after detainees’ rights and welfare as well as managing complex risks to ensure their safety and security.

“There are also additional risks where those being detained are vulnerable, for instance through alcohol or drug impairment or dependency, or where suffering will mental ill-health. We have said repeatedly that police cells are not the right place for those with mental health issues, but budget cuts across the NHS and local authorities still mean that too often the police service has to step in when individuals are in crisis and need a place of safety.

“For all those reasons the survey results are not surprising, given the immense challenges faced by those working in the custody arena. More than 60% of custody officers said they had low personal morale and this is coupled with a shortage of training – we know of at least one force which has had no refresher custody training for five years. More than 59% also reported their workload was too high.”

Other results from the survey included:

  • 62% of custody officers said that their workload had increased in the last 12 months
  • 11% of custody officers intend to leave the police within the next two years

Mr Ward said that the number of applications to be a custody sergeant are also dropping. “It is not surprising that there a reluctance to work within custody when, despite the specialist nature of the role,  investment in the training and development of custody staff is inadequate. When there are organisational failures, all too often custody personnel are blamed whereas what is needed is a corporate and holistic approach, bringing together all relevant agencies and proper resources to ensure that detainees are kept safe.” 

Mr Ward was speaking on the eve of our National Custody Seminar which begins today (12 September) in Warwick and will tackle topics including deaths and serious incidents in custody, mental health policing issues and unlawful detentions, as well as the full impact of the new pre-charge police bail provisions and the restructure and reform of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).