South Yorkshire Police to shut door on custody suites in shake-up

South Yorkshire Crime Commissioner Shaun WrightSouth Yorkshire Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright
South Yorkshire Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright
A YORKSHIRE police force is to cut the number of custody suites it runs from six to three as part of an £18m project to replace its “old and poorly maintained” facilities.

South Yorkshire Police will stop using four of its suites in Sheffield and Rotherham for holding people detained after arrest after a year-long review of how they are used.

A new, state-of-the-art “police investigation centre” capable of processing up to 18,000 suspects a year is to be built between Sheffield and Rotherham to replace them.

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The force’s largest custody suite in Doncaster will stay in place, while a second facility in Barnsley is to be replaced with a modern building on the same site.

Senior police officers in South Yorkshire decided to take action because of the poor state of the county’s custody suites, where more than 38,000 people are detained each year.

An inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in 2010 was “generally positive” about the area’s custody provision but raised concerns about the “poor physical conditions in most suites”.

It said: “Some suites were particularly old and poorly maintained, cells were covered in graffiti, cleanliness was poor and there were ligature points identified in all the suites.”

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The force is borrowing £18m to pay for the new facility between Sheffield and Rotherham, which will house teams of police investigators as well as custody officers, and a modern replacement for the site in Barnsley.

It is hoped the cost of having only three custody buildings instead of six will generate £1.1m a year in savings to pay back the building and financing costs, meaning the scheme will generate no extra expense for the taxpayer.

Chief Superintendent Rob Odell said: “It is safer for detainees and it is more efficient in terms of processing for the force. The way we are funding it is cost-neutral.”

Across the county there are 123 cell spaces in six custody suites. The plans will see three suites in Ecclesfield, Moss Way, and Bridge Street in Sheffield and a further site in Rotherham mothballed or used for another service. The police stations they are attached to will remain in use.

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Analysis by the force showed that there was excess capacity at the force’s largest suites. Mr Odell said the savings at the new sites would be made through having fewer staff, with the number of officers needed set to be reduced through “natural wastage” or by sergeants moving to other roles.

He said that despite money being spent to improve the current facilities after recent inspections in 2008 and 2010 “it came to the stage where you can’t do any more without doing something fairly radical with the buildings”.

As well as modern facilities for holding detainees, the new police investigation centre will have staff who will try to steer offenders away from the behaviour that saw them arrested in the first place.

Mr Odell said: “If you can get the right intervention, as well as processing them for whatever offence they are in for, they are more likely to be tempted away from offending.”

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South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, said he agreed to the proposals after the most recent HMIC report.

He said: “This will ensure that custody facilities in South Yorkshire meet the required standards set by HMIC.

“The proposals will be cost-
neutral, as the savings by rationalising custody estates will cover the capital costs of the new facilities.”

Currently each suite has custody officers at the rank of sergeant, whose role is to listen to the reason for detention from the arresting officer and accept detention if there are grounds to do so. Detention officers are also present to look after the welfare of detainees.

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Neil Bowles, of South Yorkshire’s Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers in the force, said: “I am all in favour of modern facilities for the detention of detainees but I regret the loss of jobs.”