Questions asked over custody costs

POLICE constables in a Suffolk town are driving detainees 16 miles away to a custody suite despite having one on their own doorstep.

Russell Claydon

POLICE constables in a Suffolk town are driving detainees 16 miles away to a custody suite despite having one on their own doorstep.

Ferrying people arrested in Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds, instead of to the town's suite, writes off 30 hours of two officers' time a month, an investigation has uncovered.

But Suffolk police believes a new system of centralised custody suites with specialist teams manning them around the clock helps keep officers out on patrol longer.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show in the first three months of this year 90 car journeys were made between the two towns to take someone into custody.

The 32 mile round trip normally has to take two officers out of action for around an hour each. This is despite Sudbury Police Station having its own working custody suite, which is only used as overspill from Bury St Edmunds at the weekends under a recent centralisation scheme.

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It also creates the problem of detainees getting home and means if anyone gets stuck Suffolk police provide a taxi or bus fare.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents officers' interests, have said the figures may just be “the tip of the iceberg” of the problem nationally.

The area's MP, Tim Yeo, believes a method introduced to cost cut could actually be proving to be more expensive in terms of policing resources.

He said: “Unless they can demonstrate there are clear savings by doing this they should accept this does not work.

“The deployment of officers on the frontline is what everyone supports and we do not want to see them bogged down in administration work.”

He added: “I think what they should do is make a proper comparison using the figures the East Anglian Daily Times has discovered to see whether this, in fact, is more expensive.”

It is understood that with only half a dozen police officers patrolling Sudbury's night time economy at the weekends, taking two off the streets to drive to Bury possibly several times can have big policing implications.

A spokesperson for the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “From a national perspective, regrettably with limited budgets and the work force modernisation programme taking place, we are finding more and more this is becoming the norm.

“Really, the amount of hours wasted travelling long distances to transport prisoners makes no sense whatsoever.”

Carl Puiy, Suffolk police's head of custody services, said the force bought in the centralised custody policy in line with national Safer Detention guidelines in January 2008. Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Lowestoft were chosen and now have specialist investigation teams and custody officers who are highly trained.

“This enables an arresting officer to take the person into custody and then to return to their patrolling area more quickly, without being tied up in custody for many hours,” he said.

“This enables them to continue dealing with emergency calls and local issues more effectively and efficiently.”