Guide to Police Station Support

Updated 22 October 2021

About this guide

This guide is produced and maintained by SCALP members. It is free to use and republish, and we encourage people to share it widely.

This guide is produced by SCALP to inform activists doing Police Station Support specific to COP26.

COP26 GUIDE TO POLICE STATION SUPPORT

28th October – 15th November unless extended


Important documents: 

Police Station Support volunteer sign up form: https://www.scottishactivistlegalproject.co.uk/contact/cop26-police-station-support/

Map of Scottish Police Stations:  https://www.zeemaps.com/map?group=4240196

Introduction

Thanks for supporting arrestees at police stations and courts during COP26!
We really appreciate your contribution, and thanks for working alongside SCALP to ensure everyone gets home safe.

Being arrested and held in police custody is unpleasant. People often appreciate being met by a friendly face when they are released.

This is a guide to doing police station support effectively in coordination with SCALP, also sometimes done outside courts. Don’t worry if this is your first time doing this kind of work, your contribution is incredibly valuable, and this guide aims to make things as simple as possible. You can also use this guide to set up your own Police Station Support system if you are not using the SCALP Legal Back Office.

Note: For clarity on some of the words and systems referred to in this guide, please read SCALP’s Guide to Legal Support. For more general guidance see our Guide to Activism, Scots Law and the Police, and other materials on the SCALP website.

So far you’ve signed up to support people in a given area, and you have agreed to our volunteer agreement. If you would like to recap on that, you can find it at the end of this document. If you have not yet signed up to do Police Station Support for COP26, please do so here https://www.scottishactivistlegalproject.co.uk/contact/cop26-police-station-support/

What happens next?

1) We need you to Download the secure messaging app Signal on your smartphone. This is a bit like WhatsApp, and it’s what SCALP will be using to communicate with volunteers. You can find this in your app store. More info here – https://signal.org/download/

2) You will be invited to join a Signal group chat with other people in your area that have signed up to do Police Station Support during COP26. Please accept this invitation as soon as you see it. We ask that you do not post messages in this group, as we want to keep the traffic as low as possible, or people might miss important information. We ask that you keep notifications on, and your phone on loud whenever you are available to do Police Station Support, and turn them off when you are unavailable (but don’t forget to turn them back on again!).

3) How to know where to go and when: When the SCALP Legal Back Office get report of an arrest, we will identify which police station the person is being held at. If this police station is in your area, we will post a message in your Police Station Support Signal group with the name of the police station and its address, asking if anyone is available to support. If you are available and can make it to the relevant police station, please either react to the message with a thumbs up, or post something simple like ‘I can’.

4) After you have indicated your availability, someone from the SCALP Police Station Coordinator team will message and/or call you personally to give you the relevant information. It will not be posted in the area Signal group chat. Please let the Police Station Coordinator team know if you will be going alone or with other people.

5) The information you will be given will include the name of the Police Station, the address of the Police Station, the Custody Reference Number (see appendix) of the person being held, and potentially their first name or alias so that you can communicate with them when they are released. If we have a description of the person, we may let you know so that you can recognise them when they are released. We may also give you the dietary requirements of the person if we know them and this is communicated to us as being important. Please don’t ask us for personal information about the individual(s) you are supporting, we have a responsibility to protect their data. For a map of Scottish police stations, please see here – https://www.zeemaps.com/map?group=4240196  

 

6) Before you go: You may not need to go to the police station right away after someone’s been arrested – it usually takes at least an hour, often much longer, for them to be taken to the station and be booked in, before being held, interviewed and released. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re ready and have everything you need before heading to a station. Please communicate with the Police Station Support Coordinator how long you are able to stay for – but no more than 8 hours at a time.

7) What to bring: 

Start gathering some key items together so that you’re ready to head off when needed. A-G are essential:

  1. This guide.
  2. Some bustcards
  3. A mobile phone, lots of credit, and a way to keep your phone charged (powerpack, car charger adapter, whatever)
  4. Food and drink – for yourself and for the arrestees once they are released
  5. Try to ensure that this meets dietary requirements of arrestees (e.g. vegan, halal, kosher, allergen-free etc.) and is high-energy
  6. Some money (particularly cash) to pay for taxi fares, food, hot drinks etc.
  7. Warm clothing and raincoat – you could be hanging around late at night, and it is good to have a spare jumper for the arrestee (you may want to bring a blanket)
  8. A mask for you and a clean mask(s) for the arrestee(s). Hand sanitiser.
  9. Pens/pencils and a notebook – you may want to make extra notes
  10. Entertainment, such as a book or playing cards (you may be there for a while and want to save your phone battery)
  11. Phone numbers for:
    • SCALP Legal Back Office: 0131 322 5322
    • The custody desk for the police station you are at (You can ask the Police Station Coordinator that contacted you for this)
    • A few local taxi numbers

You may want to pass some of these items to the person(s) that take over supporting the Police Station you are at when you go home.

8) Please don’t bring:

  • Alcohol or anything illegal (weapons, drugs etc.) – there is a small chance you could be stopped & searched so don’t incriminate yourself
  • Attitude – being seen as confrontational or rude by the cops could condemn arrestees to longer in custody

9) When you arrive at the police station:

You may be put in touch with other people doing Police Station Support for SCALP, and where possible we will try and buddy people so they are not alone.

You may feel perfectly able to walk into the police station and open a dialogue with the desk staff. They may respond to you usefully, they may not. If the police station is closed, you may be able to reach the custody desk using a phone or intercom outside. However, this doesn’t always work and the police may be uncooperative. In this situation, you’ll have to wait outside and rely on the SCALP Back Office for updates.

When you get there it is a good idea to let the front desk know the Custody Reference Number of the person you are here to support, and ask them to let you know when they are going to be released. If you have enough people, see if you can have supporters monitoring different exits, or take regular trips to check side doors.

You can also let the front desk know about any dietary information or medical information SCALP has told you is important, and ask if the person in custody is okay. If you get any useful information please communicate it back to SCALP by ringing the Legal Back Office. 

Be nice and the desk staff and police might be nice back – but do be prepared – sometimes it can be very difficult to get any information or any cooperation at all from the front desk. The police might even lie to you. Be tenacious but not pushy – the cops are likely to get pissed off at very frequent requests for information. Be confrontational and you may condemn your friends to several hours more detention (yes it does happen!) or even face arrest yourself.

When being nice, remember to keep information to yourself, it is important not to talk about protests, individuals or politics with the police. Talk about the weather or what you had for tea if you must, but stick to safe topics.

10) When the person you are supporting is released:

Your presence outside the police station can have a dramatic impact on how the arrestee reflects upon their arrest and is an important act of solidarity to support people facing repression. Simply being outside a police station to meet someone released from custody is valuable and appreciated.

Your role as Police Station Support when someone is released:

    • To greet and emotionally support arrestees as they leave the police station. For some people, police custody may have been fine, for others it might have been traumatic, so please be empathetic. To many people, being arrested is a really big deal. They might be very excited or upset and want to talk about it. Bring your listening skills with you. 
    • Be understanding. Arrestees may not know there are people waiting to support them, they may not know you or recognise you, and understandably may be cautious about accepting help from strangers. This is all part of the process. Be clear, patient and understanding. 
    • Offer some food and drink to arrestees. They may not want anything, but it’s nice to have the offer. Please be mindful of dietary needs. 
    • Please bear in mind social distancing. You may not know this person or whether they are particularly vulnerable, so meet them outside, give them space and wear a mask.
    • Phone: they may want to call someone on your phone or charge their own.
    • Release form: This is the most important thing to ensure you do after an arrestee is released. If you have been sent to support this person, it is because their arrest was reported to SCALP by themselves or someone else.
      We need to have this form filled out by them, or by you with their help, in order to take them off our list of people requiring legal support. You can find this form at arrestwatch.scot/pss
      They can give as little information as they desire, but we need to know they are released and safe. 
    • Make sure the arrestee is able to get back to their home/accommodation safely. You can offer them a lift, pay for a taxi or public transport, or offer to wait with them until someone they know picks them up. It is completely up to them what they choose to do, so do not be pushy – please respect their wishes. Equally, don’t offer a lift if you are not comfortable with it. 
    • Finally, ring the SCALP Legal Back Office or the Police Station Support Coordinator you are in touch with to let them know that the arrestee has been released and is able to get home safe. 
    • If there are no other arrestees at that station, you may want to leave, in which case please communicate this to the SCALP Legal Back Office phone number as well!

11) Expenses: If you incurred expenses which you would like to be reimbursed for whilst doing Police Station Support for SCALP, please see SCALP’s expenses policy:

Thank you: Police Station Support can be draining and invisibilised work but it is valuable and appreciated. Thank you for doing it!

Appendix:

1) Custody Reference Number
This is a unique number given to arrestees after they are processed at a police station. In Scotland, you need this number to get any information about an arrestee while they are still in police custody. Knowing their name will not be enough.

2) Police Station Support Volunteer agreement:

When signing up to do Police Station Support work with SCALP please read and check ALL the boxes to agree to the following.

We really appreciate your support for each other and for SCALP. Thank you for working with us!

 The nature of the role:

  • I understand and accept that the role of Police Station Support is to give support to those who are arrested upon their release from a station or wherever they were being held. A friendly face is always great to see after such an experience and the PSS role is a vital part of any legal support.
  • I will read the Police Station Support guide https://www.scottishactivistlegalproject.co.uk/pss/
  • I understand that the role involves: bringing food or drink for those being released and bringing funds for food or travel; offering moral support where I am able and feel comfortable doing so and where it is welcomed by those I am supporting; supporting the person to get home safely by taxi, offering a lift where everyone feels comfortable doing so, or by their preferred means. 
  • Funds and/or food and drink can be provided by SCALP where possible. See SCALP’s expenses policy to be reimbursed where possible and necessary.
  • I will wear a mask (unless exempt) wherever possible and use hand sanitizer and socially distance wherever possible. I will bring a clean mask(s) to give to those being released.
  • I understand that part of the role is to support people to fill out a Release Form upon release through SCALP’s ArrestWatch site arrestwatch.scot/pss
  • Arrest can be a challenging experience. I will support those I meet the best I can being aware of their needs and their personal boundaries.
  • Arrest can be a challenging experience also for those supporting those who have been arrested. I aim to offer what support I can whilst being aware of my own boundaries and personal safety. I will not share my personal contact or information about SCALP or any other arrestees with those I support whilst carrying out Police Station Support.
  • I will respond to call outs where I can and attend at police stations when I have said I will. If I can’t make it any more I will let the Police Station Support Coordinator know via signal.
  • If I need to leave I will let the Police Station Support Coordinator know as soon as possible. I will aim to volunteer at a station for no longer than 8 hours.
  • I will support people to phone the Police Station Support Coordinator upon release if necessary.
  • I will communicate to the Police Station Support Coordinator/Back Office when people have been released and are home safely through the signal group, or through calling the Back Office number 0131 322 5322
  • I understand that Scots law is different from the legal system in England and Wales.
  • I understand and agree that I will not give out legal guidance. Instead I will redirect people to the SCALP legal guide, calling a recommended lawyer and/or sending an email to activists_legal@protonmail.com for non-urgent questions.

Principles and values:

  • I understand that SCALP, including the Legal Back Office, is not a form of service provision, but a project of mutual aid to keep each other safe, free, and able to both survive and push for social change. 
  • I understand that we can only do the best we can, and will treat all involved with respect and understanding. 
  • I will treat all those involved in SCALP, as well as those who have been arrested, with dignity and respect, regardless of age, gender, race, disability, sexuality, accent, or any other social characteristics.

Confidentiality

  • I understand that through and during volunteering with SCALP, I may have access to information of a confidential nature. I may receive this information either verbally or in writing.
  • By confirming my acceptance of this agreement, I agree that all such information is held on trust, will be kept strictly confidential, and will not be discussed outside SCALP in any capacity, whether with friends, loved ones, other social movements. It is our responsibility to keep each other safe.
  • I will never give information gained through SCALP to the police.

The police:

  • I understand that the police are trained and skilled at getting information from individuals without them realising. If the police ask me any questions not directly related to the support of people in police custody, I will answer with ‘no comment’.
  • I will not advise people to call the police.

I agree to the following: