A force has been told it must improve its custody practices after a woman managed to take tablets three times while under arrest.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigated an incident in which Hertfordshire Police officers arrested a woman and two men on suspicion of shoplifting.
While getting ready to be taken into custody, the woman took what she described as medication in front of an officer, took another tablet once escorted to custody – as well as passing one to the man who had been arrested – and later took a further tablet while unsupervised in a holding area.
After being placed in a cell, she became unwell and had to be taken to hospital, where she recovered and was then taken back to custody.
The investigation found both arresting officers had a case to answer for misconduct, for allowing the detainees to take tablets following their arrest, not searching them and not telling the custody sergeant they had taken anything.
They also allowed the detainees to remain together in the custody suite’s holding area as well as using their personal mobile phones instead of supervising the detainees
“While supervising the detainees along with Arresting Officer B, Arresting Officer A took a personal call on her mobile phone. Hertfordshire Constabulary do not have a mobile phone policy, however it is the opinion of the investigator that the use of a personal mobile phone by an officer while supervising detainees in a custody suite could present a risk to the safety of the officers and detainees if they are not appropriately supervised,” the report states.
It added that Arresting Officer B also failed to give his full attention to the two detainees under his supervision.
“Throughout the time Arresting Officer B supervised the detainees, it is clear he was not always watching them,” said the IPCC.
“He would occasionally look out of the holding area door or he would look down at his personal mobile phone. Arresting Officer B accepted he used his personal mobile phone and in interview he said he knew he should not be while he supervised detainees in custody.”
The IPCC also said the force should implement clearer guidelines around those allowed to be in the custody suite, after finding that a PCSO was given the task of supervising the woman in the holding suite during the incident.
“Throughout the course of this investigation it became apparent that the PCs, PCSOs and detention officerss involved did not know that PCSOs were not supposed to be in the custody suite,” the report states.
“The IPCC investigator is of the view that anyone who may be involved in any duties whereby they may work in custody or may have to attend custody should be aware of who is allowed into a custody suite.”
Both officers had the case for misconduct proven at a meeting run by Hertfordshire Police but no further action was taken.
The IPCC also criticised the force for taking four days to refer the incident to the watchdog.
IPCC Associate Commissioner Guido Liguori said the IPCC has also asked the College of Policing to consider national guidance about the roles and responsibilities of officers and staff whilst detainees are in holding areas.
“While in this instance the woman made a full recovery, similar failings could potentially lead to more tragic consequences,” he said.
“Officers and staff need to be vigilant when arresting suspects, and conduct timely searches to ensure illicit medication or drugs are not able to be consumed after arrest or in custody.”