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. They have suggested that privately-run “drunk tanks” should be considered to tackle alcohol-fuelled disorder. Under the idea, drunks who are a danger to themselves would be put in cells to sober up and then pay for their care.
However, the Police Federation said the plan was “neither a viable nor long-term fix”.
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.”
An ACPO spokesperson 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. 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.
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.”
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”.
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.
Will Johnston, Warwickshire’s Joint Commissioning Manager for Adult Substance Misuse, Treatment & Care said:
“Although this sounds like an attractive option this could be very problematic. This could lead to allegations of false imprisonment and I am concerned about who would judge whether or not someone is a danger to themselves, rather than ill, and how this judgement would be made. The idea of “drunk tanks” would only move the problem to another place, rather than dealing with the causes.”
Currently “drunk tanks” are not known to be planned for Warwickshire. The Drug & Alcohol Action Team is interested in new ways of tackling alcohol misuse across the county – do you think “drunk tanks” are a good idea?
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