“One night, we had 19 people who had been arrested for 19 different offences – and I only have five cells!”
These are the words of one of the RGP’s most experienced Custody Sergeants, Sergeant Douglas Balloqui who has been in the job for the past four years.
‘Typically, the Custody Suite is manned by me and the Custody Officer, a Constable who is always known as ‘the gaoler.’ We work closely as a team and it is our job to ensure the care and welfare of detained persons but it is definitely not our job to carry out any part of the investigation. We must always remain impartial,” says Douglas. “Our main responsibility is the person’s welfare. Having said that, when I have seen all the officer’s evidence, it is my decision as to whether the detained person should be kept in the cells pending a court appearance, whether they should be released with a caution, whether they should be released on bail or whether we should just de-arrest them and let them go.
“When anyone is arrested and brought into New Mole House, my duty of care begins as soon as they arrive. There is a very clear process: he/she needs to inform their family that they have been arrested, we need to inform the duty lawyer, we need to check if the person is wanted for any outstanding warrants or other investigations and we need to check if they have any outstanding bail conditions. We also need to take a note of their appearance and clothing, we need to make a record of their possessions and we need to search them – both for evidence purposes and to ensure that they are not carrying anything that could be used as a weapon against us. Finally, we need to take a photograph of them, take their fingerprints and a swab test for their DNA and we do all this even if they have been arrested many times before.
“But my main concern is always their welfare. We need to ask them about their medical condition, if they are on any prescriptions, if they have any allergies, if they are dependent on drugs, and so on. I need to know if they could pose a risk to themselves or to my officers so I need to be on the ball all the time.”
Sometimes the circumstances become more complicated. The Custody Sergeant may need to deal with a juvenile immigrant, who has been pulled from the sea and is cold, wet, frightened – and does not speak a word of English or Spanish. Before any juvenile can be interviewed, there must be an Appropriate Adult present – either a family member or a volunteer from Childline. The Custody Sergeant may be able to make use of an Arabic-speaking police officer but there is a system whereby he can call for an interpreter in almost any language.
The detained person may be high on drugs or very drunk or they may clearly be suffering from mental health issues. “It is my job to decide whether we should take them to hospital or bring a health professional into New Mole House to assess the detained person – and that’s quite a responsibility,” says Douglas. “And sometimes the person is so drunk that I have no choice but to put them in a cell until they are capable of speaking to me!”
But where is the job satisfaction in dealing with drunks and drug-users every day?
“I’ve been a police officer for over 17 years and I feel pretty street-wise and I know a lot of my ‘customers’,” says Douglas. “Once they are in the Custody Suite, they know I’m looking out for their welfare. If I treat them with some respect, I usually get their respect in return. Sometimes I try to give them some advice: most of them will ignore it but, occasionally, you feel that your words have had some effect.”
“I’m particularly keen to listen to the juveniles, most of whom don’t have any father figures or role models to turn to. They sit down and talk to us about their issues. The regulars will usually apologise for letting us down again. But they don’t just show this respect when we’re here in Custody - it’s not unusual for one of our regulars to stop me in the street for a chat. Indeed, in my four years in the job, I can think of four or five juveniles who have completely changed their ways and I’d like to think that we have contributed to that change. They have certainly thanked me for making a difference to their lives.
“My job satisfaction comes from making that difference.”