Policing Board seeks Custody Visitors - how about you?

IF you found yourself in police custody, wouldn’t you want someone to check on your welfare?

A search is underway to recruit volunteers to monitor how people are being treated when they are held in police custody.

The Custody Visiting Scheme, operated by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, currently has 54 volunteers across Northern Ireland who work in teams to check what are known as ‘Custody Suites’ in their local area.

Making random, unannounced visits, Custody Visitors evaluate how those held are being treated and their access to their rights and entitlements, and report back to the Policing Board.

According to local North West team member Denis Shortall: “The Custody Visitor is there to provide an independent assessment of custody care and by doing so, highlight any potential discrepancies. The role is for the benefit of both detainees and police alike.”

66-year-old Denis is a retired GP from Maghera and has been a Custody Visitor for almost three years.

“Being retired, I wanted to do some voluntary work and saw the recruitment advertisement for custody visitors in a newspaper,” he said.

“It appealed to me because of my previous experience which brought me into contact with the public through illness and trauma and because of voluntary work in African countries helping those less fortunate than us.”

Describing what the role entails, Denis says: “Two Custody Visitors go unannounced to custody suites to check that the detainee has been afforded all his/her legal, humanitarian and social rights and, with the detainee’s permission, check his/her custody records for any discrepancy.

“While visiting the custody suite, we check cells and other sections where the detainee is present to make sure there are no risks present. The food preparation area, defibrillation and oxygen records are also checked.

“Independence from the police service frees one from any bias no matter how slight. Also, the Custody Visitor must be impartial in his/her decision making.”

Last year, almost 27,000 people were detained in police custody in Northern Ireland on suspicion of having committed an offence. Over 1000 visits to were carried out by Custody Visitors and their findings can be found in the Custody Visiting Scheme Annual Report on the Board’s website.

Added Denis: “To anyone interested in getting involved - join us! The training, which covers several aspects, is easy to learn and you have a great back-up team. You form new friendships with the other custody visitors, and it introduces you to another facet of the phenomenon we call humanity!”

Independent Custody Visitors must be over 18 years old and have no direct involvement in the criminal justice system. For example, anyone who has worked for the police or the Policing Board or are involved in some areas of the criminal justice system are not eligible to apply. This helps to keep the scheme independent.

If you are interested in the scheme, you have until 28 September 2012 to make an application. You can get details on the Board’s website at www.nipolicingboard.org.uk or contact:

Custody Visiting Scheme Administrator, Northern Ireland Policing Board, Waterside Tower, 31 Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock, Belfast BT1 3BG. Phone: 028 9040 8526 or 028 9040 8563. E-mail: custodyvisiting@nipolicingboard.org.uk/policingboard