A key decision will be the required hours of operation. This is critical both to police efficiency and to minimising time spent in custody by children and vulnerable adults. Particular consideration should be given to the importance of avoiding unnecessary overnight detentions, which generate significant risks for police and for vulnerable individuals, due to lack of AA provision.
Decisions should be informed by patterns of demand, considering existing provision and relevant accountability frameworks.
Under PACE, if a custody officer authorises the detention of a child or vulnerable adult they must, as soon as practicable, inform the appropriate adult and ask them to come to the station. Local authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure the provision of AAs for children. The law does not limit this duty in any way.
Thematic reports by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates (HMIP, HMIC, HMCPI, CQC) have observed that vulnerable suspects taken into custody late in the evening did not have access to an AA until the following day – causing an avoidable night in a cell. They have recommended:
- "...the provision of good quality AA schemes that are available both during and outside normal working hours"
- "...ensure AA call-out arrangements are designed such that children and young people are detained in police cells for the minimum amount of time possible"
HMIC/HMIP Expectations clearly require that “There are no delays in securing an appropriate adult and they are available 24 hours a day.”
From a policing perspective, it is desirable to have access to an AA whenever they are needed. Delays in accessing an AA due to a scheme being unavailable at the point of detention can cause delays in carrying out the investigation or detention processes. This can place pressure on police who are working to the ‘PACE clock’ detention time limits. This in turn can lead to breaches of PACE.
From the perspective of a vulnerable person, the unavailability of an AA at the time of detention can also have negative consequences. For example, it may result in them spending several hours in police detention without understanding their rights, for example the right to free legal representation. It may even result in them being ‘bedded down’ for a night in the cells rather than the matter being dealt with quickly.
In addition to analysing the volume of demand, the pattern of demand should be considered. This is a critical question for commissioners seeking to ensure supply matches and has implications for the approach to service design.
Police custody information systems hold data on the times of arrest, detention and release. In addition to the raw data, discussions should be held with police to understand their current local resourcing and practices overnight. Are there considerations that are not reflected in the custody data? For example: -
- Is demand being shifted to different custody suites due to the current lack of AA services?
- Are late night arrests ‘bedded down’ for the night simply due to lack of AA provision, or are there also issues with availability of solicitors or interviewing officers?
Any issues will need to be dealt with holistically to avoid developing a service that is not used in practice.