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Acpo issues 'drunk tanks' call to tackle disorder

  • 18 September 2013
  • From the section UK
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Privately-run "drunk tanks" should be considered to tackle alcohol-fuelled disorder, police chiefs have said.

Under the idea, drunks who are a danger to themselves would be put in cells to sober up and then pay for their care.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, which is launching a campaign on alcohol harm to coincide with university freshers' season, said problem drinking was on the increase.

The Police Federation said the plan was "neither a viable nor long-term" fix.

Northamptonshire Chief Constable Adrian Lee, who leads on the issue of problem drinking for Acpo in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, told the BBC that police cells were not the best places for people who had got so drunk they were "incapable of looking after themselves".

Nor should the taxpayer have to pick up the bill for people's drunkenness, he said.

"Why don't we take them to a drunk cell owned by a commercial company and get the commercial company to look after them during the night until they are sober?

"When that is over, we will issue them with a fixed penalty and the company will be able to charge them for their care, which would be at quite significant cost and that might be a significant deterrent."

'Sticking plaster'

Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove also recently raised the idea of introducing drunk tanks.

"Public services are a finite resource and we need to appreciate that," he said in an interview with the trade journal Police Professional.

An Acpo spokeswoman said the measure would only apply to those drunks who were a danger to themselves - those who had committed a crime would be taken to a police cell, while those who were ill would be taken to hospital.

She said the police could not walk away from a drunk who was unable to stand as they had a duty of care but it was not the best use of police resources. As there is currently no formal proposal, Acpo did not have any details on cost or implementation.

Steve White, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents officers, said he would favour "any measure that frees up police officer time and gets them back on to the streets".

But he said: "This proposal throws up far more questions than answers, particularly with regards to accountability.

"Privately-operated drunk tanks are neither a viable nor long-term solution to binge drinking and merely represent a sticking plaster for the problem."

The phrase drunk tank is an export from the US, where they are already in operation. Chuck Rose runs the Santa Barbara Sobering Center in California, which is paid for by the city council.

He said the centre's work helped the police "immensely".

"If they bring somebody and check them into our establishment, they are with us about five minutes and we take it from there," he said.

"If they have to take someone to jail, it's an hour-and-a-half of paperwork. They [the police] are back on the street, where they can do the most good."

Nearly 50% of all violent crime is alcohol-related, Acpo said, while offenders are thought to be under the influence of alcohol in nearly half of all incidents of domestic abuse, and alcohol plays a part in 25% to 33% of known child abuse cases.

Ch Insp Sue Robinson, deputy chairwoman of Acpo's alcohol harm reduction group, said: "When we should be working in local communities tackling priorities set for us, we are more than likely to be addressing drunkenness and alcohol-related crime and disorder."

'Small aspect'

The In Focus: Alcohol Harm campaign launched by Mr Lee, which will include drink-drive operations, visits to disorder "hotspots" and talks to new university students, is intended to highlight the difficulties police face in dealing with drunk people.

A woman sitting on the pavement as three police officers stand by
The so-called drunk tanks are aimed at those who are a danger to themselves

Mr Lee said he was disappointed no licensing authorities had imposed charges for late-opening alcohol suppliers to help pay for policing the night-time economy, and by the government's failure to bring in a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in England and Wales.

The plans were shelved in July amid fears the change would hit responsible drinkers.

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said: "The government is taking a wide range of action to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder. This includes introducing a ban on the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol sales.

"We have given local areas the power to restrict the sale of alcohol in the early hours and ensure those who profit from a late night licence help pay towards the costs of policing."

Labour's shadow crime and security minister Diana Johnson urged caution over potential private sector involvement, in the wake of the government's discovery that two of the biggest private providers of public services - Serco and G4S - had overcharged it by tens of millions of pounds for criminal-tagging contracts.

She also said the idea of drunk tanks "could and should only be one small aspect of any proper alcohol strategy".

"The government's alcohol policy is out of touch and in disarray - dropping their minimum alcohol pricing policy, rejecting drugs and alcohol education in schools, and going ahead with an ineffective late night levy," she added.

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