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With a statutory requirement to check detainees in custody at least once every hour, reducing to 15 minutes or even a constant watch for those considered high-risk, the officers in police custody suites operate under immense pressure. And today’s custody suites have grown to an average of 30-40 cells compared to a handful of cells a decade ago. Human welfare aside, the challenge for any police force tasked with running a growing custody suite is to make it as efficient as possible, reducing human error and paperwork – and hopefully in doing so, to be able to reassign some of their officers back on the beat.

Stephen Smith from ISM believes that the way forwards for custody suites lies in using their existing databases and booking- in systems and linking them to another system, something that 17 police forces throughout the UK have already done, using ISM’s Genesys front end system as the missing link. Recently Thames Valley Police were able to reassign two police officers from their custody suite to go back on the beat. Before Genesys was installed it took at least 20 minutes to book a person into custody. It now takes just 5 minutes. 

The merits of saving time and reducing human error

“Many custody suites are still heavy on manpower because they’re light on systems,” explains Smith. “We know from conversations with many of the UK’s police forces in the last 20 years that managing a custody suite and performing health and safety and welfare checks on each detainee is a time consuming process that’s not without the potential for human error. For example, a detention officer will tour the cell block, using pen and paper to record where he has been, which detainees he has visited, who he has provided food or drink for etc.

He will then have to manually input this information back at the charge desk. En route to his desk he may be interrupted by a request from a detainee but forget to log this simply because it slips his mind given the amount of information he has to manually input before the next tour. But once you implement a software system to automate this process, you reduce human error dramatically and save time.”

Interoperability as the new standard

Smith explains how many custody suites are now using ‘joined up’ technology. “With Genesys and Cell Call, a detention officer will visit a cell, presenting a tag to register his presence. Within the reset panel (which only becomes live when he is present and records the exact time of his visit), he records what he has done. This is then transferred automatically to the custody record and stamped with the exact time and date the officer was at the cell. This removes any doubt as to when the watch was carried out. When the detainee is on a watch routine the system alerts the staff if a welfare check is late. If the detainee is removed from his cell, for example to be interviewed or to exercise, the watch is automatically suspended. When a detainee is released from custody, the system will log the name of the person who searched the cell prior to it being reused again. A few weeks ago, a police custody inspector described Genesys literally as a ‘no brainer’ because it delivered a return on investment within 6 months.”

Smith emphasises that police forces have the technology already and that integrating their systems with Genesys is straightforward, commenting, “All police forces should ensure that the systems they are installing today can be integrated in the future”.

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