Arrestee Support – supporting those on the frontline

In this series, we explore a range of support roles people engage in to help people on the “frontline” of protest.  Take a look at this invaluable support role, it’s a role often not spoken about; one which takes compassion and empathy.

This account, written by a fabulous individual, who gave dedicated, wonderful and warm support to many anti-fracking activists in North Yorkshire.

WHO CAN PROVIDE ARRESTEE SUPPORT

Anyone can really step into this role, however, I think it often suits retired people who can commit time through the day.  Also, people may be able to assist by driving Protectors to their cars or homes, or back to a Protection Camp, after they finish work for the day.  I’m not sure that I’d recommend trying to entertain young children for long periods of time at a police station as they naturally become bored.  Parents might, of course, have other concerns too about children being there too.  Dogs can be great company to have with you, but again, sometimes they can become restless. 

Volunteers should be able to communicate with all types of people and having patience and self-confidence are useful attributes too.  Surprisingly, I found many protectors to be surprisingly shy around new people.  Being able to set them at ease if you have not met them before is a huge bonus. It isn’t just about talking to protectors though, having the confidence to communicate with the police custody staff is vital. Protectors with health needs, or injuries, will need a strong advocate to ensure their safety.

HOW TO DO ARRESTEE SUPPORT

I can only say how I did it at York police station, when we were supporting the Kirby Misperton anti-fracking campaign in North Yorkshire.

Waiting!  There is a lot of that, so being prepared is essential.  I would take snacks, drinks, a book and I did a lot of knitting or crochet!  That’s not compulsory by the way but it worked for me!  I found the police station to often be very cold, so dressing warmly was helpful –  that of course could vary so I would suggest lots of layers.  As you will be there for a lengthy period, take a phone charger/ battery pack.  I never had any complaints when I plugged the charger into the police station wall sockets but obviously other police stations may have other policies.

As soon as I arrived I would report to the desk and tell the officer why I was there.  I think it’s crucial that you don’t name people, they may have chosen not to give their name.  I also think it’s important not to name people on any Facebook pages either, that is up to them.  I used to use an initial or describe the person. Custody staff can be very cagey and don’t always confirm if the person is there. I often found that I’d arrived before the arrestee had even got to police station!  Do not openly discuss the person, or details of the arrest, where it can be overheard.  It’s really important to remember that the police may be listening, or you may be overheard, and this may affect the legal process.

Some protectors may have an arrest plan, it is worth enquiring if this is the case, plans may include contact information and child care arrangements.

If you are aware that the arrestee has health needs or that they have caring responsibilities, please tell the custody staff immediately.  Some health issues may require specific monitoring ie: seizures. I would also ask if a message could be sent through to the person to let them know that their child, animal, elderly relative or partner was OK and taken care of.  

Whilst I’m not there to make friends with the police, being “friendly” with the custody staff really helps. I found that I built quite a rapport with the York custody staff and they were willing to do this. I found that they would often be more helpful than they are technically allowed to be, especially if you are polite.   All police custody suites will be different, as will the staff, but it’s worth creating a good impression by not making a noise or leaving a mess.  My view was that I was there for the arrestee and anything I could do to pay dividends was worth the effort, especially in the long run.  Relationships and rapport take time to build.

To keep on top of what is happening, I would ask the custody staff for an update every hour or so; too frequently may put their backs up.  Often people are not interviewed, but if they are, and have asked for their solicitor to be present, can add hours to the wait.  I’d always make sure that I kept the appropriate people updated as the situation unfolded.  Unless it was a dire emergency, I would not leave my post unless there was someone to take over from me.  You never know when the arrestee will be released or if you might need to take them to hospital if they are unwell on their release.  This was the way I chose to work and I appreciate it is a big commitment, therefore, it’s important to co-ordinate with others to ensure there is always cover.  I have had to attend hospital with ill or injured protectors three times.  At times where there is a change in support volunteers, it’s worth informing the custody staff and asking the arrestee is told someone else will be coming for them.

ON RELEASE

When people are released, even those who have arrested before, they are often fed up, cold, hungry and tired.  I found a huge hug and warm greeting went a long way!  Everyone is different and whilst some people want a cuppa or a cigarette, others may want a drink, some food or just to go home.  Ask if people want a photo taking outside the police station to mark the occasion!  I would always check if they were happy to have the photo shared on Facebook and I always respected their choices.  After the arrestee has been released it’s important to get them to where they need to be, as soon as possible.

I found the role of arrestee support to be exceptionally rewarding, knowing that I was able to make that person feel appreciated and valued made the long hours of waiting was really worthwhile.

Our thanks to CFH for this interesting and informative insight.