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 540.

    Other succesful world models suggest restricting access to Alcohol across the board isan effective route to reduce demand. E.g. In Canada and much of Scandinavia you can only by drink in special state licensed shops.
    A question Given all the PROVEN evidence of the damage it causes to its users & those around them (a shed load more than smoking ever did) why is alcohol advertising still allowed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    I'm sure David Cameron would back this as it's another way for his rich buddies to cream even more money out of people. If alcoholism is a social problem, it should be dealt with socially, not privately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    It was my understanding that bar staff should not serve people who'd 'had enough'.

    Clearly my understanding of 'had enough' needs some updating!

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    Paying for your own Incarceration was part of the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil? You could take a money loan out, from the government, at a reasonable APR, to cover your Incarceration costs.

    Art imitating life; or the slippery slope?

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    Another great idea by the idiots that run this country. So a private company would want to grow profits therefore would turn a blind eye to or even encourage binge drinking and bend the ear of the UK regime through paid lobbyists. Why don't we just lock up the drunks and give them a hefty fine of £1k per night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    520. bakewellpudding

    Can you enlighten me as to where you found this 10 pints for £30 mega deal? Sounds unrealistically cheap to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    I've been working up until midnight in the city centre during "Freshers" week and noted with some surprise just how much alcohol-fuelled rowdiness can be generated by two halves of cider. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    most drunks are alcoholics......this is diagnosed and documented as an illness so why should the people who suffer with this..." illness " be financially punished. whoever thought up this is an idiot they have not looked at the picture in full....they just see students, on a weekend getting drunk and decided, hey we can make some money out of this to add to the cut budget we get we get.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    1st of April already ?
    It will probably work until the 'private organisation' is sued for restricting freedom of movement/human rights (which will be the morning after the project opens).
    But why are we even thinking about this......if someone can not make it home, or have no friends to look after them when they're drunk, then let them sleep it off where they fall over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    Sensible licensing laws are needed. People have all the education, they chose to be drunken pests, criminals and abusers. Bigger fines, community work, make them pay financially.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    Be cheaper to give them a breath test, get a paramedic to see there is nothing major wrong so they don't get taken to hospitals and block care for those who need it and then leave them in the gutter where they belong. Why should others be responsible for idiots who won't ...not can't...look after themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    489. angrymoby
    'drunks' already pay for their 'care' via the duty paid on alcohol ..
    I suspect this is complete bull when you look at all the hidden costs (economic, long term health et al).
    Even if true this doesnt mean that we dont need to tackle this massive problem.
    The Gov are pathetic on this, moaning about behaviour while kow towing to the drinks industry and supermarkets.
    Money talks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    If this is a way of a person paying for his "care" rather than having to be arrested or dumped on an A & E ward then this is a good idea.

    It should only be used in cases where once sober and paid up the incident can be forgotten about.

    Not where the police have to press charges for behaviour other than being a drunken fool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.


    "No, no NO!. This is what is wrong with society today. Nobody says "it's my fault for drinking it""

    1) Personal responsibility is heavily deteriorated when under the influence of alcohol due to it's effects.

    2) The BARS are the ones breaking the existing laws by continuing to serve people who are already drunk. As they break the law, YES it IS their responsibility!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    The Pink Elephant in the room here is easy access to booze, this problem has grown worse since the introduction of 24 hour licensing, despite promises that it would improve town centres at night. Shut the pubs at midnight and the clubs at 2 a.m. If you can't get enough down your neck then you have a problem!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    I presume this is yet another great idea though up to allow the tories pals to make lots of money rather than taking serious action to tackle the problem. The whole country realise that they are not serious about tackling the real issue because this will directly hit those that donate to them. ie, price controls vetoed. This is now an epidemic in this country, all we do is line peoples pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    Good idea - hit them in their pockets - why should the rest of us who pay taxes pay for these idiots. The police have better things to do with their time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    Why not go the whole hog and put them in stocks in the centre of town.
    Left-overs and food past its sell by date can be deposited nearby for the entertainment and target practice of the masses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    Why do the police habitually ignore licensees who serve alcohol to drunks.
    This is still an offence.
    Many a time I have heard the term " you've had enough" or "your friend looks as though he should go home" The Police are frightened of the big boys. split the care bill between the drunk and the person serving the alcohol to drunks.
    I live in a City Centre

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    For those who have witnessed the drunken antics of parliamentarians in the numerous bars at the Palace of Westminster, the location of their 'drunk tank' will be of particular interest.
    It is a hilarious sight watching the £300-400 per day 'Peers of the Realm' waiting for the bars opening, not quite as funny at closing time, seeing them 'battling' at the taxi rank.


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