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The Paper Chase (3)

February 1, 2007
You would think that having a computerised system for recording the details of people brought into custody would mean that paper would be a thing of the past in the custody block, wouldn’t you?

Sorry to upset all those tree-huggers out there, but paper is consumed with the same ferocious abandon in this department as well.


It’s a security blanket. Senior officers get very twitchy if something isn’t on paper – it’s a throwback to the days when everything was submitted on reports and the onset of the computer age has completely removed the need for people to submit reports. However, there are still some people who won’t believe what they see on a monitor screen – I think they get it mixed up with their telly!

Anyway. When someone is booked into custody, an electronic custody record is created. This contains details of the arrested person, when, where, why and by whom they were arrested. It also records the health and demeanour of the arrested person and allows custody staff to create contemporaneous electronic records of all interactions involving the detainee.

So if it is all recorded electronically, why is there a need to print everything out? Sometimes in duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate.

For example – a copy of the custody record is printed out, just in case the computer crashes. There are two sheets that contain the prisoners details and circumstances of the arrest. Copies of these are printed for legal advisors, appropriate adults and anyone else with an interest. Then the machine prints off a Risk Assessment form. Don’t know why – never used it. Then there is a list of the prisoner’s property, which has to be signed by the prisoner to confirm it is correct. Then a property movement sheet – because the computer system can’t record when something is taken out of the property bag.

When someone comes in to custody, they get a booklet explaining their rights and entitlements (unfortunately, no-one has thought to produce a booklet to explain their social and moral responsibilities) and they have to sign a piece of paper to confirm they have been given their booklet and to confirm the decisions they have made. This sheet, which is double sided, could be signed over half a dozen times by the prisoner, dependant on circumstances.

If a person is arrested for a trigger offence (theft, robbery, burglary, certain drug offences) they have to take a Mandatory Drug Test. A six sheet booklet has to be completed, although only one or two pages are of any consequence. Depending on the result, another two or three pages of paper die, together with the numerous copies that have to be sent here and there.

Locked up for Drink/Drive? You are responsible for decimating rainforests! There is a multi-page booklet that officers have to go through to make sure that drink drivers don’t manage to find some little loophole to get off the fact that they are killers in waiting.

When someone is charged, four copies of the charge sheet are produced. Together with six copies of any bail conditions if they are imposed, along with the file front sheets (More on the MG paper chase in a later post).

If someone is released on bail, pending CPS advice or further inquiries, then guess what? A load more paper gets pushed through the printer. There are four copies of the bail sheet, some of which have to be signed (One for the prisoner, to remind them of the date, one for the custody record, even though the details are recorded electronically, one for the case papers and one for anyone else who might want one).

When that person comes back on bail, the system churns out another copy of the custody record. I’ve no idea why. So if someone is bailed two or three times (it can happen on protracted investigations) they could have three or four copies of the same information printed out.

Every morning at 3.00, the system generates a printout of all the prisoners that have been in during the last 24 hours. This can run to four or five pages over a weekend. This report is filed, never to be looked at again. “What is the point?” you may be asking. I’ve asked and I’m still waiting for an answer.

Back on the subject of bail, the system also spits out reminders to officers of their forthcoming bailbacks. I’ve no idea why, because the officers ignore them. It just reminds them that they have got annual leave coming up and they need to find some other mug to deal with their prisoner.

In order to combat this flagrant abuse of the bail system, someone has come up with an idea. Bet you can’t guess what it involves? Of course it does – a form!! Officers have to get their sergeant to sign a form agreeing to the bail date that they are proposing. I know, I know – I’m a sergeant and I’m the one making the bail decision, but why make things simple when a whole new level of bureaucracy can be introduced? Needless to say, all this does is ensures that the sergeant can now get it in the neck when the officer in the case is on leave on the proposed bail date.

There are several other clever things that this custody system can do to keep the rainforest lumberjacks in business. It connects to the Police National Computer (PNC) and has the facility to print out a person’s PNC record. There are different types of record, but for the full effect, it is only necessary to print out an entire record for someone who has more than fifty convictions to see the printer go haywire and the paper disappear faster than a rat up a drainpipe. Then there is the Phoenix Source Input Document. This contains descriptive details of the prisoner, including information about the offence, bail conditions, warning markers etc. It is submitted electronically to the PNC, so why on earth do we get an option to print it out and if you forget to put a “no” in the box at the right point, then out it spews?

If you are still with me, then you are a real glutton for punishment. I’ll give a run down on the files that we have to prepare for CPS next – that should raise a chuckle.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Annette permalink
    February 1, 2007 21:48

    My god, how do you keep up with all that?
    Didn’t realise just how much paper work you really do.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    February 1, 2007 21:54

    I doubt it will make you happy, but its the same in my line of industry, they fire 2.5k’s worth of tough books at us, then expect us to record all the info that we email in a notebook as well.

    T’is madness

  3. Stan Still permalink
    February 1, 2007 22:34

    Annette – you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    Wait till I get to the MG files!

  4. Anonymous permalink
    March 4, 2007 12:43

    I thought i’d be clever and submit the witness statements to the CPS having copied them on to CD, all 3,000 sheets of paper. It was a murder file but i submitted the ‘file’ safe in the knowledge i had saved a rain forest. How stupid am I??? First thing they did was load the disc and press the print button!!! Why do we bother…?

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