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Police slam drunk tanks as a 'gimmick'
12:10pm Thursday 19th September 2013 in News
IT’S the not-so-comfy ‘B&B’ that is estimated to cost more than a night in the Ritz – but the bill is picked up by YOU, the taxpayer.
Every Friday and Saturday night the scene inside police custody cells across Hampshire is like Groundhog Day as a steady stream of drunken yobs are booked in for the night.
Many of them have been arrested for violence they have inflicted on others while there is also a handful who are put under lock and key to sober up because of genuine fears for their safety.
But whether or not a night spent in police custody – said to cost between £300 and £400 a time – is the answer has now become a political hot potato after police chiefs representing the forces in England and Wales suggested a privately-run ‘drunk tank’, where people are taken to a room and left to sober up, could be a solution.
The ‘welfare centre’ approach is already common in parts of Europe and America and was backed by Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech last year, although he didn’t make mention of fees for those who use them.
Staffed by private security guards and medical professionals who would need to watch over intoxicated guests, it has been suggested people taken there could find themselves checking out with not only a sore head but a bill of up to £400, plus a police-issued fixed penalty notice of £80.
It was mooted by Northamptonshire chief constable Adrian Lee, who is also the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on alcohol problems, who questioned why either the police or health service should be responsible for those who “choose to go out and get so drunk that they cannot look after themselves”.
But the idea was given a cool response from the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Hayes, who said he would be reluctant to spend any cash on such a plan and questioned whether any private company would want the responsibility of a drunk in a cell who may well choke on their own vomit in the night.
And it was slammed as nothing more than “a gimmick” by the man representing rank and file officers in Hampshire, who said the concept of a drunk tank was “ill thought out” and was merely “papering over the cracks” of an overstretched police service crippled by drastic cuts.
John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, told the Daily Echo: “We are not a free bed and breakfast facility where drunks are taken to sleep off their intoxication – it is a massive cost to the taxpayer and a huge burden on policing.
“Custody cells are packed out on a weekend and it’s a problem across the county and reflected nationally every weekend. It is not suitable for these people and it’s not morally right either.”
He added: “My view, very strongly, is that the NHS should be stepping up to the plate and playing their part.
“They will say they cannot do it because they are overstretched and under-resourced but so are the police – the difference is we never say no.
“This is an ill thought-out concept and what ACPO should be raising with the Government is the deficiencies within the police service due to those cuts, rather than introducing gimmicks like this.”
Mr Apter admitted that on the face of it, police officers in the county would most likely welcome the plan if it meant they no longer had to deal with drunken yobs who take up large amounts of their time every weekend, but the reality would be very different.
He added: “You have different levels of drunkenness, from the violent drunks who should always be dealt with by the police service because they are committing criminal offences, to those who are drunk and incapable of looking after themselves who we deal with because of concerns for their safety.
“The reality is that we don’t have the resources to deal with this epidemic but the police should not be dealing with this alone. It goes far wider than us and the medical professional should be playing their part.”
Last year some 31,000 fixed penalty notices were handed out to people for being drunk and disorderly in England and Wales, although it is not known how many of them actually spent a night in the cells.
Meanwhile, the cost of alcohol-related crime is said to be around £11bn per year – and around a quarter of that on the shoulders of the NHS alone.
Assistant Chief Constable David Pryde said: “Alcohol abuse is an issue for society as a whole which must be addressed to reduce the long-term strain on emergency services.
“It is right that people should be able to go out for an evening and enjoy themselves without worrying about their or their friends’ safety. If drinking, it is also right that they take personal responsibility for their own safety. “The force works tirelessly in planning resources around night-time economy areas and responding to incidents in order to protect people from harm.
“We therefore welcome the national debate on alcohol use and are following with interest the proposed solutions which will ultimately require careful consideration.”
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