Inside the work of a custody visitor – and how you can become one too

Cell corridor

Volunteers receive training and travel expenses for the role - Credit: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner

A trio of volunteers have revealed how they help safeguard the welfare of people detained by police in Suffolk.

Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Tim Passmore is on the hunt for additional independent custody visitors (ICVs) to monitor conditions of the county's investigation centres in Bury St Edmunds and Martlesham Heath.

Volunteers receive training before carrying out approximately one visit per month and meeting as a panel on a quarterly basis.

Tim Passmore at the PIC

Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore (pictured left) is looking for additional independent custody visitors - Credit: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner

Mr Passmore, who is particularly keen for applications from younger adults and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, has praised the current team's commitment over the last 18 months in adapting working processes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One current volunteer, a former magistrate, aged 80, said: "It’s our job to turn up unannounced to carry out checks to see that the police carry out their role appropriately, within the law and in accordance with strict protocols.

"It is vital that checks are carried out without fear or favour, completely independent of the police. It’s a safeguard for the police, for the detainees and for the general public at large.

"Heaven forbid, but if I found myself in such unfortunate circumstances, I would like to know that my interests were being safeguarded by an independent organisation such as ours."

Police investigation centre booking-in area

The police investigation centre booking-in area - Credit: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner

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The scheme's youngest volunteer, 22, explained that, as well as obtaining data on the number of detainees and selecting individuals at random to visit in their cells, IVCs also ensure cleanliness and provision of appropriate supplies, including religious material, sanitary products and medication.

She added: "Custody, for many individuals, can be scary, unfamiliar or daunting. 

"Having a visit from a civilian – an individual dressed in normal clothes who is solely there for that detainee’s welfare and best interest – may help to reassure the individual in question.

"Through conducting regular and random visits, the custody sergeants and police are under consistent review, meaning a high quality service is provided, and detainee rights and entitlements are upheld." 

Another of the current volunteers, aged 73, explained how the programme, now the responsibility of PCCs, was established following the Brixton riots in 1981.

The volunteer added: "It was seen that having independent volunteers speaking to detainees was a means of protecting the interests, welfare and rights of people who have been detained by the police.

"As volunteers, we need to be representative of the population, so it is important that we have a team of people who are a mix of ages, cultural backgrounds and ethnic diversity."

For more information and an application pack, email the scheme administrator or click here.

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