Working as a Custody sergeant

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Jane Roberts was motivated into joining the North Wales police service after having all her twenty-first birthday presents stolen two days after a family celebration. As custody sergeant, Jane is responsible for detaining people who are suspected of all sorts of crimes.

What are your duties?

I am based in the custody suite at a police station. It is my job to book in those who have been arrested and make appropriate arrangements for them to be held in one of the 24 cells. I look after their welfare and make sure they are aware of their rights. Everything that happens to detainees has to be recorded from the moment they arrive, including details of what they are wearing or whether they have requested a drink of water.

What equipment do you use working as a custody sergeant?

The custody unit is paper-free and all custody records are computerised. Even fingerprints are taken electronically. We also use the VIPER identification system. Instead of gathering outsiders to form an identity parade we take a picture of the suspect and send this to our national database. Similar pictures are selected and sent to us to be shown to the witness.

What special training have you had?

I attended a two-week initial course, covering all aspects of life in the custody office. A lot of it involved practical exercises where we took turns being the custody officer or the detained person. Every year, I attend a first-aid course and update my basic life-saving skills. All police officers attend two defensive tactics training sessions each year, practising how to use the baton, handcuffing techniques, captor spray and basic holds and grips.

How fit do you need to be?

There is no fitness test to pass once the probationary period has been passed. However, it is in my own interests to maintain a reasonable level of fitness to cope with the rigours of shift work and the stress of being in the custody unit when it is busy.

Describe your typical day.

It depends on how many prisoners there are. On a weekend shift we could be dealing with more than 20 people who have been detained because of aggressive and drunken behaviour, for instance. They may all be detained for the night and need checking every 30 minutes. The day shifts revolve around them too – they have to be interviewed, charged and fingerprinted. I normally work nine or 10 hour shifts but when it's busy I can be working for 12 hours before my job is finished.

What really satisfies you about your job?

I enjoy working in a high-pressure atmosphere and the team spirit it creates. I have worked with my two detention officers for 15 months and know I can rely on them completely. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and make a good team.

What skills and qualities do you use in your job?

Social skills are vital – the ability to communicate and listen. You have to remember that most people coming into custody are scared and this can make them confrontational. If they are aggressive or noisy they are removed to a cell until they have calmed down enough to be given their rights. However, a lot of people apologise for their behaviour later.

Are there any difficulties?

Being a police officer can make you suspicious of people and their motives. Shift work can have quite an impact on people, including family and friends. They have to be understanding as I might have to work at times when they are out enjoying themselves, especially at Christmas and during the New Year celebrations.

Jane's route to becoming a custody sergeant

  • GCSEs.
  • Initial police training course.
  • Passed Sergeant's exams.

Jane's tips

  • Don't join too young – get some experience of life first.
  • Not every minute of the day is exciting – there are some tedious moments, just like any other job.

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Salary of a police sergeant

  • A newly promoted sergeant is paid £29,307 and can expect to earn £32,940 after four years in the job.
  • Salaries are reviewed every year.

How to become a police sergeant

  • The promotion exam to the rank of sergeant can be taken by any police officer once they have completed the two-year probationary period.
  • The exam is in two parts:
  • – Part 1 is a written exam, testing knowledge of criminal law and policing procedures.
  • – Part 2 consists of role-play exercises, testing practical skills.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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