Drugs and restraints warnings for custody cops

14 September 2017


Example of concealed drugs

Criminals are deliberately  looking to be arrested so they can smuggle drugs into jails, cops were warned this week.

The alert came from drugs expert Detective Constable Jamie Thompson who says offenders can get paid vast sums of money if they are successful in concealing the drugs in their bodies which remain undetected following arrest and eventual transfer to prison.

He warned: “Be on the lookout for offenders who are out on licence and seemingly desperate to get locked up and commit minor crimes to take the drugs into prison. One guy broke the window of a police station; he was going to get paid £1,000.”

DC Thompson also outlined the hazards of a new generation of drugs – including Fentanyl and ‘Spice’, speaking at this week’s National Custody Seminar.

“Custody officers need to take extreme care faced with Fentanyl, especially in powder form where it can go into the air and be breathed in, or get onto the skin. This stuff is 1,000 times stronger than heroin – officers need to glove up and wear face masks if dealing with the powder, and seek medical assistance urgently if the suspect detained has it,” he said.

In the US, where it is called Grey Death, the drug was popular with heroin users but in the UK it was more common to see it in a patch form, especially for use in care homes. “Heroin users will raid care home bins and suck on the patches,” said DC Thompson, adding that, while not on the scale of America, Fentanyl use was beginning to creep into North Yorkshire, Humberside, Staffordshire, Cumbria and Met force areas.

The expert, who works for Cheshire Constabulary, also talked about the difficulties with ‘legal highs’ and so-called ‘new psychoactive substances’ like Spice, an extremely potent form of synthetic cannabis dubbed the ‘zombie drug’ by media because users appear to stop in their tracks after use.

Obtaining convictions was hard, he said, because of the difficulty of quantifying possession, and two recent trials involving nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’ had collapsed because a judge ruled it was a medicine and not a psychoactive substance. Thirty more people were awaiting trial on similar charges but law enforcement and the judiciary were awaiting clarification from the Home Office.

“For police officers it has to be business as usual concerning these drugs because we have heard the stories of people becoming ill, being starved of oxygen or simply falling over and cracking their head open.

“For custody officers, if someone is suspected of swallowing a substance, then there has to be constant observation.”

Constant observation was also one of the themes in the presentation by Susan Freeburn, a principal lawyer in criminal and misconduct cases and expert in custody investigations from law firm Slater & Gordon, on Day 2 of the seminar.

“Custody officers need to remain very vigilant about a detainee’s breathing especially after restraining them. Asphyxia can come on so quickly that there are virtually no outward signs.”

She also urged caution when dealing with regular detainees in custody. “It is really important not to get lulled into a false sense of security when dealing with a ‘frequent flyer’, for example delaying in calling an Appropriate Adult to attend the custody suite.”

And she warned that ‘perceptual distortion’ was a real risk following a traumatic or serious incident in custody. “This is probably not the best time for custody sergeants to crack on with the custody report. They are effectively going to Stage 4 of the PIPs procedure at a time when they are probably quite distressed, leaving a way in for investigators later on.”

Earlier in the day Katie Kempen, chief executive of the Independent Custody Visiting Association urged custody officers to ‘make friends’ with their Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) to help troubleshoot problems and improve conditions for detainees.

Although the visits were sometimes described as inconvenient, ‘good relationships are worth their weight in gold’ and could help escalate problems to a higher level.

“ICVs should be going repeatedly to Police and Crime Commissioners(PCCs) to highlight detention conditions if they need to be improved. They are a straight route to the PCC help you get things  improved and will hold the Chief Constables to account.

“I’m looking for a modern detainee-focussed environment, so I’m less concerned about the ambient temperature ready meals than, say, detainee welfare and long waits for mental health beds. If there is a child being held in a cell, they’ll be asking why is that child in there? I’m looking to ensure that people are treated like humans.”

The previous day the 120+ seminar delegates heard from national custody lead Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave who unveiled a virtual reality pilot to improve training as the policing custody world awaits the publication of the Independent Review into Deaths and Serious Incidents in Custody, ordered by Theresa May in 2015. Still under wraps, the report is likely to focus on issues including the welfare of those suffering from mental health issues and restraint in custody.

Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) chief operating officer Ian Todd, who will become Deputy Director General when the police watchdog restructures and becomes the new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), revealed the reform had been delayed until at least January and some changes may take a further six months.

Other speakers included Caerwyn Ash, Associate Professor of Medical Devices at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, on his research with Dyfed Powys Police into preventing deaths in police custody, and the College of Police’s mental health lead Insp Mike Brown. PFEW’s firearms and police officer mental health lead Che Donald spoke about the Federation’s Protect the Protectors campaign and legal expert Professor Michael Zander QC, from LSE talked about developments in PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act).