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 140.

    Maybe if they were talking about charities with a focus on helping these people running the tanks then I could get on board, as it is it just sounds like another opportunity for the fat cats to continue getting rich out of the misery they cause in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I normally have a couple of glass of wine before going to work in the morning, and at Lunch, I go straight to a corner shop (look left and right) and have a quick one.

    My point is, sometimes and some people beer makes them work better. From what I have read it is good for blood

    Leave these Officers alone, as long as they keep us safe they can do the want.

    Sort Syria not this for goodness sake

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    What a good idea. If they can't pay put them in manacles and make them sweep the streets for a month.
    Or bring back the birch. Nothing concentrates the mind like pain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Quite right too. Hopefully this is the start for charging for all self-inflicted conditions including hospital treatments and the injury and time wasting for others who can act responsibly. I am sick and fed up of non-responsible types getting away with their behaviour. If they can't act properly hit them in their pockets. If they can't pay get them to tidy up the country. I've a bin they can use

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    How drunk is drunk? The driving limit? Lying on the floor throwing up on yourself? Somewhere in between? This is a bad idea that is too easily abusable. If someone is being disorderly, press charges with strong evidence and go from there.

    "Nor should the taxpayer have to pick up the bill for people's drunkenness, he said." Well alcohol is heavily taxed already, so this point is moot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    "How can we make more money off poor people?"
    "Well, we could abduct them from the streets and then make them pay to get back out again."
    "We can't go about abducting people! The public won't stand for it!"
    "Well, they'd have to prove it, wouldn't they? The abductee will be sober in the morning, so there'll be no proof they weren't drunk!"
    "Great idea, Monty, great idea! Snifter?"
    "Oh, rather."

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    121. Jack Doyle'
    'I don't think this would be legal.'

    Society have judiciary and enforcement departments that ensure we all live normal lives. Would you call life on friday and saturday nights in central towns in the UK 'normal'? These drunks are not in a normal state of mind - by their choice - to be allowed on the streets.
    I wonder why this marvelous and simple idea was not thought of before!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Require drinkers in public places to buy "an alcohol consumption licence" for, say £400. Full money back whenever you no longer need it. Confiscated if you are found drunk and incapable - to pay for the "care" in the "tank". Want to go out on the tiles again? You'll need to buy a new licence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    If someone is drunk and causing no problem what concern is it of the police? If they are causing a problem charge them with a public order offence. If they are not are breaking the law leave them alone, if they are so do something about it. Not let some private bunch of thugs arrest and lock up people just for staggering a bit. Better to stop the licences of clubs which serve those who are drunk

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Employ civilian health care and security staff to operate in police cells, under police provision, and charge drunks as suggested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    re. 121 Jack Doyle, learn your law!!

    If someone is drunk & disorderly and causes criminal damage, do they have no liability because they weren't in a fit state to enter into a contract of responsibility? No. Because in a sober state they choose to get drunk knowing the consequences.

    Bring it on, I think it a great idea. Hit their pockets & believe me they'll learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Fully support this. Why should my taxes go to provide transport and overnight accommodation for drunks? A £60 fine is no deterrent. Add to that a £50 transport bill and £200 overnight bill and people would start thinking twice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    'privately run' ?, this is something that is so far over the line, that a motion of no confidence should be applied to these chief constables.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    It doesn't matter if you're drunk or not. If you need medical help you should get it, free of charge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Remove the "privately run" from the equation and it has potential. Being privately run i can see backhanders taking place between the operator and the police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Presumably the private operator will make a profit from this, i.e. the more "drunks" they get in, the more they make. Begin to see the problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    ..and yes bill speeding and drunk drivers, dangerous sports enthusiasts, ill equipped mountain walkers etc etc for the consequences of their irresponsible actions.

    On a practical level how does this work, presumably people aren't going to go voluntarily to their massive bills? This is either a Police or Health issue, either way its publicly funded from taxes inc tax on alcohol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    It works in America so why not here, why should the taxpayer pick up the bill ? Stick them all together to puke over each other and perhaps they won't want the experience again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Drunk people are at pretty significant risk to themselves, and I doubt that a private company would be putting as much money as they should towards having proper medical staff on hand - I reckon it'd take a couple of weeks before the first death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I don't think this would be legal. A drunk person wouldn't be competent to enter into a contract so would be under no obligation to pay the debt incurred for their care.

    Further given the track record of private companies in provision children homes, prisons and even basic medical stuff like hospital cleaning, this will likely have extremely bad results.


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