Visitors to Essex Police custody facilities - Covid-19
The outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic has created enormous challenges for us all as we seek to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and by doing so protect members of our community, our staff, our partners and those detained within this facility from the effects of the virus.
For everyone involved in the Criminal Justice System however, during these very difficult times, the ever-present risks created by criminal offending remain unchanged.
Essex Police have a core duty to continue to protect the public. It remains necessary for the Police to investigate offences and protect the victims of crime, which means that there is a need to continue to arrest those suspected of committing offences where no other option is available, no matter what difficulties are presented by the COVID19 outbreak.
In order to be transparent and to offer you some reassurance, I would like to explain the measures that staff in the Custody Command are taking within the custody environment to keep you, those detained and our staff as safe as possible.
When engaging with a client
Essex Police will always recognise the rights and entitlements afforded to detained persons in our custody suites. The current environment has presented us all with certain challenges regarding virtual contact that require swift and lawful resolution. We must all ensure, as far as is reasonable in the circumstances, that every element of the detention remains PACE compliant and that any new processes comply with protocols that are Nationally agreed by our respective organisations.
As lawfully appropriate, you will continue to:
- be able to talk to a DP on the telephone;
- be able to visit a DP in custody;
- be able to represent/support a DP in person in a suspect interview;
- be able to represent/support a DP via video link (once this capability is available) in a suspect interview;
There are no provisions in PACE for telephone based legal advice in interview. This approach is not supported by the NPCC, CPS or the Law Society and is therefore not supported by Essex Police.
Things you should know about video links into custody
Essex Police supports the decision by the Courts to move to video enabled processes. As a result, however, there are more people being held in custody for longer as DPs wait to be heard in virtual court. This results in unavoidable delays.
There is only one ‘live-link’ room in each custody suite and this is reserved for court 0800-2000hrs. Essex Police ‘live-link’ or ‘virtual court’ rooms are not suitable for video-enabled interactions between DPs and those supporting/representing them outside of these hours nor are they equipped with interview recording equipment.
Essex Police is seeking to introduce a suitable video-enabled PACE compliant solution for use in suspect interviews. It is hope this will be available in the coming days (anticipated by 10th April).
When visiting a Custody Suite
Please be aware of the following points that apply to every visitor (as described above) upon entry to the Essex Police custody estate.
Upon arrival at a Police station, all visiting professionals will be asked two screening questions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to minimise the risks posed to people already present within the suite. This is solely designed to ensure that we maintain a safe working environment.
- Question 1: “In relation to the risk you may pose to others in entering this Police Station, is there any reason for you to suspect that you may present a heightened risk of infecting others with the COVID-19 virus by entering this facility?”
- Question 2: “In relation to the risk you may pose to yourself by entering this Police Station, are you a person who has been identified as being in a higher risk category, should you contract the COVID-19 virus?”
Op Talla GOLD and the Custody Command have determined that it is not possible to maintain a 2m distance from others in the custody environment. Therefore, every visitor will be required to wear the appropriate PPE to comply with GOLD policy.
Essex Police has a duty of care to both those in custody and those working in the custody environment. In these unprecedented times, any answer of ‘yes’ or a refusal to answer either of the above screening questions will result in entry to the custody suite being reviewed. This is because either answer is considered to place the visitor or others at an elevated risk of infection which has been mitigated by the organisation elsewhere eg. by self-isolation; shielding; working from home.
Any data collected as a result of COVID19 health screening measures will be disposed of after the health crisis is over.
If waiting in the front office, your wait time will be kept to a minimum and you will be brought into the Custody Suite as soon as possible.
Once inside the suite, hand washing facilities and hand sanitiser will be made available to you. Please ask a member of staff for products as necessary.
General surfaces and equipment within the Custody Suite are regularly wiped down and cleaned using appropriate cleaning solutions.
Surfaces such as the booking in/charge desk and interview tables are routinely wiped after every interaction with detainees.
Should you require any wipes for the cleaning of any equipment, please ask and they will be provided.
As you will be aware, social distancing in certain areas of some custody suites is exceptionally difficult given the physical limitations of the cell blocks e.g. corridors. However, all people present within the suite, including visiting professionals, will be expected to follow social distancing guidelines wherever possible.
All people present within the suite, including visiting professionals, will be expected to wear the appropriate PPE which will be provided by Essex Police
Please be aware that given the nature of detention, it will be necessary on occasion for Essex Police officers and staff to compromise the 2m gap. This may be to physically restrain detainees at any point or engage in other activities commensurate with the processes of arrest, handcuffing and transportation. All these actions will bring officers into direct contact with a detained person, despite the COVID19 social distancing guidelines. We all are working as hard as possible to comply with best practice but also accept that Custody and other areas of policing are unique environments which will place us at odds with the 2m social distancing ambition.
You will be informed of any specific risks identified by custody staff in relation to a detainee where COVID19 or any other condition is suspected
You are encouraged to enquire on the telephone, prior to arrival as to whether the detained person you are coming to see is displaying symptoms or has claimed to have been exposed in any way to COVID19.
Health Care Professionals (HCPs) are available 24 hrs a day to provide medical advice to detainees as and when required, but health assessments are now limited to essential and contactless wherever possible.
With regards to interviews, in line with section 6 of Code C PACE, telephone consultations with clients prior to interview will be facilitated by custody staff. Should you decline to attend for interview, the requirements of Section 6 of Code C PACE will be followed.
When there is a requirement to physically attend an interview, the interviewing officer will be responsible for wiping down surfaces using appropriate cleaning wipes before and after each interview. The largest available interview rooms will be used to maximise the opportunity to socially distance during interview and interview rooms will be re-configured where possible to further facilitate this.
HSE and NPCC guidelines are followed to ensure the appropriate level of cleaning is undertaken after a detainee leaves the custody suite. In doing so, we take into consideration the specific risks identified in relation to each detainee, so that the safety of the next occupant, as well as that of others still in the suite, is maximised.
The practices and responses to COVID19 are kept under constant review and the above advice and position may change frequently and with very short notice.
Essex Police recognises the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated an extremely dynamic and fast-moving response world-wide. In this environment it is essential for us to keep you regularly updated. Our ambition is to achieve this through our external web pages, emails and briefings.
Should you have any observations, suggestions or representations concerning the safest way to proceed, we will listen and do our best to accommodate your needs, within the range of options available to us at that time and location.
If you have any concerns as to the cleanliness, cleaning regime or protocols being implemented whilst you are visiting the custody suite, please bring it to the attention of the custody sergeant at the time in order that we can address them accordingly in a timely fashion for the benefit of everyone.