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The absence of a custody supervisor is seen as a huge and obvious risk to both prisoners and staff.

Conference 2020: It takes two

Delegates push for minimum staffing levels at custody units to mitigate risks for prisoners and staff.

Police Association president Chris Cahill reiterated at the conference his belief that Police custody suites remain the single biggest risk area for staff.

His views were shared by the delegates who have approved a motion from the Nelson committee that the association lobby Police to update its policy on staffing in custody areas.

The association will be calling on Police to ensure that police stations at which prisoners are held in custody, other than for an interview or short-term processing, must have a minimum of two officers present, or immediately available, at all times.

With three association members facing manslaughter charges over a death in custody in Hawera, the issue has been top of mind for staff all over the country, but it is often provincial areas that face the most challenges due to older-style cell blocks and fewer trained staff available.

The Nelson committee outlined the problems at the Nelson Central custodial area – an extremely antiquated cell block of 16 cells; a long way from the nearest prison (in Christchurch), meaning detainees were often held there for longer; and, the biggest risk, lack of staffing in the cell area in the late evening and overnight.

During the day, the area is busy with authorised officers, but overnight, from 7pm to 7am, often due to illness, leave or other staffing reasons, there might be only one PST constable available to potentially manage up to 12 detainees as well as doing other station duties.

The absence of a custody supervisor, leaving no identified person with full and focused responsibility for prisoners during that time, is seen as a huge and obvious risk to both prisoners and staff.

Over the years, the committee said, there had been some close calls with high-risk prisoners.

“In an ideal world there would be a 24-hour custody sergeant working in this area to shift the responsibility and mitigate the risk.

It is, however, accepted that it would require a further four to five sergeants and that is unrealistic for smaller metro areas in the short term,” the committee said.

The next best option was setting a minimum requirement for two officers to be present or immediately available at all times. One of those staff should be an AO or a person specifically trained and confident in the management of custody areas.

National office will be putting the Nelson committee’s recommendation to the current Police Custody Management Programme review.


The gloves are off

After extensive research, the Police Association has concluded there are no needlestick-resistant gloves that are suitable for standard issue to Police staff.

National office staff considered the benefits or otherwise of the gloves following a request from delegates at last year’s conference.

Concerns had been raised by the North Shore committee which said it knew of several members who had resorted to buying their own protective gloves to provide extra peace of mind in potentially high-risk search situations.

Of particular concern was work done by Level 1-trained constables, authorised officers (who search people in custody) and public counter support staff (who search and handle found property).

There were 21 reported needlestick injuries to Police staff from July 2015 to April 2020 with none of the affected staff contracting hepatitis or HIV – the most likely diseases they might be exposed to. This is considered a low incidence of injury and there is also a low risk (3 per cent) of blood-borne diseases being transmitted in this way.

Data from reported needlestick injury cases to police showed the majority could have been prevented if safe search practices had been followed.

Complicating the issue of hand protection is the fact that there are no needle-proof gloves available in New Zealand or internationally; the only options are products with varying degrees of needle-resistance.

Gloves were assessed in a trial in Bay of Plenty and in Tasman District, where frontline staff were given “turtleskin” gloves.

Anecdotal responses from BOP were that the gloves made it hard to feel and search property; the gloves were not washable; and staff preferred the blue, heavy-duty disposable gloves.

In Tasman, staff generally didn’t wear the turtleskin gloves for “patting down”, as they restricted tactile feeling, but they did use them for searching vehicles and bags. When complacency set in, staff using the gloves had to be reminded that safe search practices still needed to be followed.

Staff already rely on a range of gloves – from latex, to synthetic rubber to leather – when doing searches. All staff are offered a hepatitis B vaccination.


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