Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Introduction to the project

The title of this research project is 'Good' police custody: theorizing the 'is' and the 'ought'. It commenced in September 2013, taking in multiple sites in the UK over a three-year period.

Police custody is where an arrested person is taken whilst a decision is reached about what should be done with the case, for example whether to charge or bail them. It is therefore an important gateway to the criminal justice process, where much is at stake for suspects and staff. In recent years, there have been changes to the way that police custody areas are staffed and managed, in particular, civilianization of roles formerly done by police officers has given way to privatization through the use of public-finance initiatives (i.e. when a private security company owns and/or manages a police custody suite and the police let it from them).

Though there have been a few recent studies of police custody, including my own book, ‘Police Custody’ (Willan, 2011), there have been few attempts to rigorously examine ‘good’ police custody or to map out changes to police custody arrangements on a national basis. Information about how police custody is currently delivered can be used to theorize about 'good' police custody practices and 'good' policing, and explore how police custody should be delivered in the future.

Aims of the research

1. Describe and appraise variations in police custody arrangements across the UK.

2. Identify the key dimensions of police custody areas in operation. They might include occupational culture(s), power, fairness, justice, emotions and relationships, cost, governance and accountability.

3. Explore how police custody arrangements such as civilianisation and privatisation impact on these key dimensions of police custody.

4. Conceptualise and theorise the dimensions of 'good' police custody and the links between them, and examine the implications for 'good' policing.

5. Develop benchmarks and a survey tool to monitor and improve police custody facilities, complementing the inspections conducted by HMIP/HMIC.

Though the study will be of great interest to academics and researchers, it will also be of interest to key stakeholders such as the 52 police organisations in the UK, HMIC, HMIP, the IPCC, as well as private security companies contracted to manage/staff police custody areas. These key stakeholders will be provided with a better understanding of:

- How police custody operates in practice and also how it should operate. Much research in the past has focused on police malpractice, whereas the proposed research will examine what constitutes 'good' police custody practices. Such information could be used to enhance public confidence in the police and to increase the likelihood that the public continue to cooperate and engaged with the police in the future.

- Police custody in a local and national perspective. This will enable police organisations to compare themselves with other similar police organisations and help them to understand where they might improve or where they are already good enough.

- How to monitor and improve police custody practices on an ongoing and long-term basis. The research will lead to benchmarks and a survey tool which police organisations can use to measure their performance and which will be complementary to HMIC/HMIP inspections.

- How to balance the need for cost-effective public service delivery with the need for security, fairness, justice, legitimacy and accountability, under austere financial conditions.

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