Protecting Vulnerable People
Independent custody visiting
313. Since 1 April 2013, the Scottish Police Authority has had a statutory duty to maintain and manage an independent custody visiting scheme to monitor the welfare of people detained in police custody facilities throughout Scotland. Independent Custody Visitors are volunteer members of the local community who visit police stations unannounced to check on the treatment of detainees, the conditions in which they are being held and that their rights and entitlements are being observed.
314. As I stated in my 2017 report on Deaths and serious incidents in Police Custodyfor the then Home Secretary, Independent Custody Visitor schemes need to be recognised and valued for the vital role they play in helping to safeguard conditions within police custody. This means that they should have all necessary support required to collate and disseminate learning, and see it acted upon.
315. The main focus of the police and other agencies should therefore always be to divert the most vulnerable people from police custody at the earliest stage possible. It is also vital that the police and healthcare providers are properly resourced to do so and that the most effective disposals become more readily available.
316. In the context of the current Review and the scope for complaints to arise from detention, the interaction between members of the public and the police at custody suites should be seen as an area of risk and the scrutiny of independent custody visitors as an additional means of using the learning gained to mitigate that risk.
317. Increasingly the police are being called to deal with individuals who have mental health problems. Such situations may generate complaints against the police. Many people who come into contact with the police are taken to police stations rather than to a health‑based place of safety. In cases where there has been serious criminal wrongdoing this approach may be warranted. However, for more minor offences, healthcare should be a priority where there is an acute need. Even in serious cases the mental fitness of an accused person to be interviewed or detained may require an urgent medical assessment. The necessary communication, de‑escalation and diversion required to prevent unwell detainees being detained by the police requires multi-agency co-operation and a clear understanding of the roles, responsibilities and skillsets of the police and healthcare bodies.
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