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 180.

    Raise drinking age to 21,this will clear up 75% off drunks

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Privately run cells, private security in courts, privatised forensics services and all maintanance and mechanical investigations carried out at private garages, private photographers for crime scenes and PFI buildings across the land.

    Just as well we have a tax payer funded, national police service to match our NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    "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."

    Thats balls!! They caved to pressure form the drinks and supermarket lobbies that it. It had nothing to do with responsible drinkers because the drinks of responisible drinkers, i.e wine, fine spirits, 4/5% beers/ciders, would not have been effected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I get about £55 a week from my job seekers allowance. Have two kids and am a single mum. But I still manage to find at least £30 of that money to get trollied. You will always find ways of doing things you love. So booze Britain will live on. And I wouldn't like being policed by other companies. I pay my taxes and will only deal with he constabulary!

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    New and improved ways to stealth tax.
    If people are drunk and violent, there are already laws to take care of them. If they're drunk and merry and not causing any trouble, then leave them alone. Just last week some drunk lads fixed a bent bike stand.
    Police are just trying to find ways of keeping the tough contents for themselves without actually doing the policing required to earn it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    "Ugh where I am? I'm meant to be getting married today"

    "You are in Hackney Welfare Centre. My name is John. Here is your fixed penalty notice. Your current account has been debited with a £400 fixed plus administration fees of £175 plus VAT. Have a nice day"

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    town centre no go area at night
    a and e departments no go area after 11.00pm
    no police cover for crime incidents in late evening

    all so listed public companies can make a profit from people who are ruining their health by binge drinking
    Shame on you parliament and lobbyists.
    Sent only letter ever to my MP just after Tony Blair was elected.
    Worse policy BlairBrown ever implemented.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    I suggested this on HYS last year.

    Good to know someone took notice.

    I look forward to a significant reduction in my tax bill once this is implemented

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Yes, this a great idea,

    Maybe the fire service could give the idiots a good hosing down too, so it makes it easier to cart them off to the cells, back to a warm blanket and nice cup of tea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    "Alcohol-fuelled" - the same way that driving offences are 'petrol-fuelled'? The demons are in some of us, not in drink. CPS should make drinking an aggravating factor in crime, never a 'reasonable excuse':

    Committing a crime after elective incapacity to discharge our duty of care to others should be an additional crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    A curfew is the answer...anyone drunk and disorderly should be subject to a week's curfew.....the next time, two weeks.....and so on. Anyone abusing another person due to intoxication should be charged with a criminal offense. Where I live, some pubs still serve people who are well over the limit...restrict or withdraw their license.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Screw minimum pricing and drunk tanks, instead reduce duty on pub-bought draught beer and return to the old licensing hours.

    Legalising cannabis will have a profound reduction in the amount of alcohol fueled violence as many change their legal drug of choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Finally someone talking sense. I work in the hospital and drunks are a waste of time and space

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    #7 SJm
    #16 MattJ
    So any responsible drinker aged 23, who has been legally drinking for 5 years would be told that they are now underage until they are 25 if that was to be the legal age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    most normal people dont go out to end up urinating themselves or fighting shadows. but many under 30's cant afford to live outwith the parental home, debt from uni, no job prospects. no wonder we have this issue, alcohol is a release for many. have a joint and you wouldnt see this, saving millions a year. but weed is the devils work apparently eh ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Just a thought. Maybe there would be fewer drunken idiots on the streets at night if the pubs and clubs closed earlier instead of being open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    What a great idea and what a pathetic response form the Police Federation. Our police should be spending all their time on deterring and detecting real crime, that's obviously too difficult for this bloke. Let the private sector get on with this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    137.Sue Doughcoup - Quite right too. Hopefully this is the start for charging for all self-inflicted conditions including hospital treatments

    Go into A&E on a Sat night and there's people with injuries from on a night out. Go in on a Sunday morning & it's full with people with injuries from playing football & rugby. It's a slippery slope once we set a precedent for 'self inflicted' injuries

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    AT LAST some commen sense .I totally agree that anyone who drinks to the point they become violent or abusive should be locked up and made to pay for it. Police have other far more important issues to deal wit. Similarly if someone requires hospital treatment as a result of getting drunk then they should be made to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Great idea but it must be done by a private company for the sake of efficiency.


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