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 1260.

    whilst alcohol consumption remains legal we should accept ALL of the outcomes of drunk behaviour, whether happily or begrudgingly.
    Is anyone surprised that something designed to disable one's faculties does exactly that?
    alternatively we should issue a personal chaperon to everyone who intends to drink that day, because many people do not drink responsibly strangely enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1259.

    And of course like every other private public service there will need to be a two tier system. Wealthy parents will be able to hand over cash up front so their offspring will be spared from spending a night with the plebs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1258.

    Young people going out and getting drunk ! well I never !
    What a lot of old fogies we are becoming when plans for "drink tanks" look attractive..

  • rate this

    Comment number 1257.

    I'm against the privatization of law enforcement, in these comments we blame the Police, Blair, Pubs, Cheap Booze etc. HOWEVER nobody is calls out the one group who is at fault, the Drunks, they make a decision to get drunk to participate in public disorder they should be arrested and billed what it really costs in Police time, equipment, cells, etc., the real cost and then a fine!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1256.

    whats the obession with private run companies? they cost us far more in the short and long run. If this was a public idea and the money that comes from this is to be pumped back into the community (like a good chunk of OUR taxes is suppose to) it would make for a brill idea other wise I just see it as money grabbing, government plan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1255.

    This is the floodgate to privatisation.

    It's not so far from, "You were drinking, so you weren't acting responsible", to, "You were skiing, so you weren't acting responsibly".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1254.

    We must repeal the Tony Blair "24 hour opening" legislation ASAP and re-introduce controls on the sale and licensing of alcohol in clubs, pubs and in shops. Binge drinking is costing us too much both financially and physically. If Westminster is not prepared to do this, then delegate the power to local authorities to act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1253.

    Some positive thinking at last.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1252.

    I work with young people 18-25 and I think a variation to this is a good idea. many of them fill up on cheap booze before hitting the clubs and come back paraletic, care and an enforcable (non criminal) fine would soon moderate their excess. That said, so would not serving them at the bar and a curbs on the amount of alcohol that can be purchased in a supermarket up youths

  • rate this

    Comment number 1251.

    if pubs sold alcohol at a reasonble price then people who are invaribly young, might not feel theneed to preload before they head out. i saw this problem when 20 years ago the industry started selling products that taste like pop. im fed up with everyone being blamed for societies ills when in my opinion the problem lies with this free market economy profits before peoples well being

  • rate this

    Comment number 1250.

    I am sick of my taxes being squandered on Friday night drunks. Pubs and clubs that allow their clientele to leave drunk should have their licences revoked permanently PLUS pay for street cleaning and any police time used.
    Furthermore people regularly found drunk in public should accumulate points used to demote them on NHS waiting lists plus A&E staff must be given powers not to treat drunks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1249.

    I have a solution.Back in the good old days the police knew each town drunk.They were "gentle" town drunks in those days,and the police took them to the cells for the night,then gave them breakfast before sending them on their way.
    But labour crushed the gentle approach and now we have yobs in town centres.
    Get culture back to where it was to solve politically created problem, not drunk tanks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1248.

    There is a simple solution.

    Stop super markets irresponsibly selling alcohol at a loss!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1247.

    It is surely about free will. I live near Stockton town centre. I know that if I go down there and get drunk there is a high likelihood I'll get into trouble. So I stay away. It's all about choices - and mine haven't always been the "right" ones I will admit. No to this though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1246.

    1225. We also pay taxes for education so that people can spell and use grammer properly! Suppose 'drunks' don't have family members with whom they are in contact? Have you considered that not having this kind of support may be one of the reasons some have become dependant on alcohol in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1245.

    Run by the army like a boot camp. Also sling in the registered alcoholics and cut their related sickness benefits.

    Downside would be JD Wetherspoon and Ace Lightning seeing a downturn in revenue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1244.

    I thought drunk people already paid for their policing costs. its called tax and is in fct progressive. The more you drink the more tax you pay therefore the more you have contributed to the cost of policing. If the powers that govern this country are going to directly charge for service when will I get my tax rebate. I have already paid for the police to keep me safe. Why should I pay again!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1243.

    Seems most of us with an ounce of common sense think all that needs doing is make the fine match the costs of the service the police provide.
    Plus of course £35 admin!
    No need for 'drunk tanks' particularly set up as private enterprise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1242.

    If they're privately run, say by G4S, what's the odds someone who looks just slightly merry or even tired gets lifted and carted off to one of these places and hit with a bill for "board" in the morning. There is existing legislation in place to deal with this already, it's the charge of 'drunk and disorderly'. Why not just use it and issue fines to those who really are drunk and being a nuisance

  • rate this

    Comment number 1241.

    I thought we already had drunk tanks run by Weatherspoons?


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