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 160.

    Something needs to be done - the NHS is on its knees and the increase in drinking has a great deal to do with it.

    I know somebody who stayed cold last winter as he preferred to spend money on alcohol rather than top up his electric meter.

    Also going out for a quiet drink isn't really an option in my town as there is always some drunken brawl somewhere.

    Its pathetic!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Though not addressing the real issue as to why some do this week in week out it will make a percentage think before they get sloshed.

    Good idea I reckon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    a couple of years ago i cut my hand open and was in hospital for a couple of days, all was well until Friday night when a couple of drunks arrived on the ward.........i don't think you need me to fill the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Here's a crazy thought, drink to enjoy, not to get drunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    A good idea by people who understand first hand the problems we are facing in modern society caused by irresponsible members of society who think it is ok to get drunk, act like a fool and then be sick everywhere on a reoccuring basis. Ignore all the normal lefty bleating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    This is a very good idea indeed. I would go further - drunk and incapable people should be removed to a place of safety and left to recover. They chose to get drunk, the taxpayer should not be burdened by paying for their recovery. Also, I would suggest work camps for persistent offenders - compulsory placement for a minimum of 1 week digging holes and refilling them. Should apply to both sexes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    What about people who have their drinks spiked? Unfortunately it does happen. Will they have to pay for the privilege of being looked after following being effectively poisoned?

    If not then everyone can get off the hook by claiming it. If so then their duty of care to victims has ben brushed aside.

    Stupid idea!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Great idea so long as the Police are reimbursed for their costs in that not all the "profit" goes to the private companies.

    Still, why not go back to the good old days whereby drunks where banged up overnight, next morning they were up before the magistrates. For a first offense they were fined a fair amount, next offense they got banged up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    I think wine and champagne should be made illegal as they glamorize drug abuse and act as gateway drugs to binge drinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    The problem is the culture of these young people. They drink on an empty stomach and then don't know when they had enough and carry on drinking.

    I was taught by my parents to respect alcohol and to enjoy it. I have been tipsy before, but never woke up with a hangover like many people do every weekend.

    Also how can they afford going out each weekend?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    The simple fact is that the police have finite resources, and on weekends a disproportionate share of those resources are devoted to dealing with drunks in town centres.

    Are those complaining about this idea the same people who complain that the police don't come straight out when called?

    I've called them on a Saturday night, only to be told that all officers are tied up in the town centre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    We sell them cheap plonk, celebrate the British way (mocking those AWFUL disciplined teetotal Muslims forever) and then can't believe it when they get plastered and act like animals.
    You can't have it both ways. Are they animals or enlightened western democrats?
    Wake up, because we're going down the pan fast while you dither.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.


    Nothing with drinking anything too many laws in GB
    I drink 13 pints in a day and smoke 40 cigarettes and I am on £100k a year
    Am I not a roll model for my 7 children?

    The important thing is I am a good parent and I give them what they want

    Too much red tape in GB
    The majority here support the Police as long as they do a good job on the streets
    I feel safe with them whether drunk or NOT

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Love it.

    The lunacy grows every day.

    All this air that ordinary people ( criminals ) are breathing EVERY day.

    It costs money to keep it clean you know.

    I think a responsible private company should be given the right to make non-payers for clean air wear a mask that only allows dirty air into their lungs.

    If they can't pay, they should work harder.

    Bleedin' plebs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Not sure this is the answer (wouldn't stocks be cheaper??) but something needs to happen. Not sure if it's because I no longer drink, but every time I drive through our local town centre I am genuinely appalled at the things that occur on the streets of this country at night. Current levels of drunkenness need to become wholly unacceptable, and soon. It's now the UK's single biggest problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Sounds like a good idea to me.

    These idiots ruin city centres at nights and cause misery to thousands as well as costing the tax payer (us) millions a year.

    If they had to pay for their care they would think twice.

    Nothing wrong with getting hammered at the weekend - AS LONG AS YOU CAN TAKE IT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    It is really very simple. The drunks are a direct result of activities of the drinks industry and their clients. The pubs and clubs, and indirectly their clients, should pay to have the results of their trade looked after. May be the pubs etc.. will start to change the format of their premises from the current drinks consumption factories to a more entertainment and socialisation format.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Something radical has to be done to about alcohol abuse in towns and cities across UK. The police can't cope with the scale of appalling behaviour caused by pre loading/bingeing. The NHS should not have to pay for the health costs of self abuse. Hit them in the pocket make them understand there is a price for selfish drunken behaviour and they are going to pay not the tax payer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Oddly enough perhaps an opposite strategy is needed...

    On the continent (Germany, France etc) they don't have nearly as many alcohol related problems. Why? Because the club/bar doesn't have to close early.

    University students know that their night is going to be over by 2am. Perhaps the prospect of having a longer night out might encourage them to 'pace themselves.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    The problem with this is that you can be arrested for 'drunk and disorderly' with a blood alcohol level low enough to legally drive. The arresting officer decides what constitutes disorderly.

    It's a convenient catch-all for anyone who is just being a bit of a nuisance.


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