Acpo issues 'drunk tanks' call to tackle disorder


Chief Constable Adrian Lee says public money is being used irresponsibly

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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.

Start Quote

This proposal throws up far more questions than answers, particularly with regards to accountability”

End Quote Steve White Police Federation of England and Wales

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.

Every Saturday night, police mop up drunken behaviour and dump people on paramedics and hospitals - all at huge cost. But once the police leave the scene, there's nothing to stop anyone walking away, assuming of course they're actually capable of doing so.

So while the idea of a place where alcopop-fuelled drunkards could crash out and wake up to a bill for enforced bed-and-breakfast looks compelling, it's just not clear how it could work in practice and in law.

Police only have limited powers to detain you - and your time in custody must be necessary and the reasons for it clear.

So where exactly, in legal terms, would people be held and under what power?

Clever lawyers could argue that time spent sobering up in a drunk tank amounted to false imprisonment and that would give the police a headache as bad as the detainee's hangover.

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."

Start Quote

They [the police] are back on the street, where they can do the most good”

End Quote Chuck Rose Santa Barbara Sobering Center

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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  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Doesn't this fall foul of the Unsolicited Goods And Services Act? No drunk will be in a position to agree to pay for their overnight care, etc. How are they going to get round this one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    @ 88. Billy

    What exactly is "fowl mouthed scum"? People with beaks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Sounds like a win win to me. Maybe not penalise the drunk and disorderlies heavily if it's a first offence, but definitely they should be paying for their behaviour instead of the taxpayer picking up the pieces. I believe it's often the same faces night after night causing much of the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Not such a bad idea - but why do they have to be run by private companies rather than the police?
    I'm sick of public services trying to abrogate themsevles of any responsibility for the service they're entrusted to provide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    About time they pay for it them selves, 21 yes great idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Look at many towns and villages and there are still 'lock-ups' around. Horrible little buildings near pubs where drunks were incarcerated for the night. Why not start using them again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    This could easily emulate state-sponsored, privately run kidnapping, followed by sexual exploitation, then forced labour and, finally, extortion, not dissimilar to 17th century Britain and many third-world countries today. Please spare us these mouse-brain ideas. The young are young, those in power are lacking intelligence and De Bono ideas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    This is a great idea - the sooner we clear the streets of the puerile drunken louts (male & female) that we have in most of our city centres each weekend the better. Why is Britain so tolerant of alcohol which is just another recreational drug. The government missed a real oppportunity when it decided not to nring in minimum alcohol charges..

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Excellent, bet this will be cheaper than a hotel in London and you care individual care! About time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    The man's obviously pissed, and should be arrested,

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    the problem is based on family life and family values, check out how many 1 parent families we now have, the govt broke the family unit apart and now we all pay the penalty. blame the politicians they are behind most of whats wrong in this country....

    ban alcohol..i think the yanks tried that once....not really a success was it

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I think raising the minimum age for Alcohol consumption to 21 years is a good idea. A neighbour's Daughter got caught in Montana whilst on an internship for Drinking underage 1000 US fine. Sadly the sensible drinkers suffer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    About time! Alcohol abuse cost the Tax Payer A LOT OF MONEY! And the NHS suffers because idiots cant handle alcohol which is a cause of fights, injuries, and fowl mouthed scum. That are an embarrassment to English culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I think this is a great idea. People may think twice about getting so disgustingly drunk if they have to pay a huge bill in the morning. This is not about privatisation. This is about irresponsible people wasting public money and police time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Which would return us to the 18th Century where people buy themselves out of prison. As ACPO are a private company, they should declare their interests in this.

    Single, simplest, cheapest way to cut down alcohol consumption: restrict the size of business that can sell alcohol. That would cut out supermarkets but it would impose balances on alcohol consumption.

    You could call them "Pubs".

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    A Group 4 Hotel ... Another way for big business to make money instead of dealing with the problem, although we may find guests leaving without settling their bills.

    Maybe we need to stop supermarkets from selling alcohol, curtail licensing times and even licence alcohol purchasers, funded by big drinks companies & limiting them to x units per day.

    On the same basis car bins for speeding!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    People have always got drunk, there's nothing wrong with that. As long as it is only the violent and those so bad they need ambulances that take the brunt of any measures then I'm fine with that, just don't tar everyone with the same brush like we've seen before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Mattahew - Dangerous ground mate, We show we're ok with being charged for things and before you know it, we'll be forking out for everything. It gets a kicking sometimes, but the NHS is better to any other system I've lived with and I'd hate to see it lost to simply punish a minority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I think he's spot on. I don't think any great extra costs should be incurred though. Just keep them in an open cage on a bunk where they can be observed for 12 hours then bill them as he says. Or put cctv in certain cells and monitor the drunks using that. Either way the costs shouldn't be prohibitive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Lets not forget our stretched A&E departments. The cost in 'treating' these people is horrendous besides diverting care from those who have a genuine condition. It's an idea that I've talked about with friends for years - some are and some aren't in agreement. Its an action I would fully endorse, thank heavens that someone with a bit of integrity is prepared to stand up and do something about it.


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