Belfast Telegraph

Private drunk tanks plan leaves me staggered

By Lindy McDowell

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank... Outside of the Pogues/Kirsty McColl song we don't have a whole lot of experience, this side of the Atlantic, re overnight holding cells for the well-liquored.

But all that may be set to change with news this week that police chiefs in England are keen to trial American-style drunk tanks which, they argue, could be a solution to the UK's increasing problem with late night inebriation.

As we are all aware, alcohol-related incidents are a burden on the NHS, cause chaos in A&E particularly at weekends and stretch all emergency services.

And young women as much as their male counterparts feature heavily in these statistics. The old image of old boy collapsed with hooch has been updated with naked thighs, fake tan and hair extensions. Not that it matters to those on the booze frontline.

Over 95% of police officers say that dealing with drunks is a complete waste of their time. So a process which aims to scoop the over-hydrated from the streets sounds, on paper at least, like a grand idea.

Detainees would be kept overnight under the supervision of security and medical staff.

On release they'd be required to pay costs somewhere in the region of £400.

Think of it as a parking ticket with overnight accommodation. Albeit with a five-star accommodation price tag. And no fry for breakfast. For the plan is the drunk tank service would be outsourced to commercial concerns.

And herein lies my concern...

In a word – targets.

Commercial enterprises are there to make money. Drunk tank operatives as much as the next wannabe tycoon.

A bit like those parking tickets firms which currently hover like vultures around certain shopping centres, they will be out to secure as many 'clients' as possible.

This may not automatically lead to a press gang scenario where the innocent but tipsy are seized off the streets to make up quotas.

But define drunk.

Is it totally comatose on the street corner? Or just wobbling a wee bit?

If it's the latter there are a few girls out there who might need to rethink heel height should the drunk tank ever get past the think tank stage.

If it's the former – potentially more serious still.

I say this because I recall an incident a few years back when myself and a few friends were out on the town. We'd just left a city centre bar when one of our number spotted a man slouched against a wall. Was he okay she wanted to know.

"He's full", we told her, "Leave him." There was security on the door. They'd see to him, we thought. They'd get him on his feet.

The man was slurring his words, not making a lot of sense. Typical drunk, we all thought.

Except that for some reason our friend felt something wasn't quite right. She called an ambulance. He was taken to hospital.

The man, it transpired, was totally sober. He'd been taken ill. It was just unfortunate that he'd been passing a bar – when, as it turned out, he'd had a stroke.

And that's just one example of the many genuine health and safety challenges the outsourcing of the nightly rounding up of the inebriated could involve.

We all accept there is a problem with the tanked up. But commercially-run drunk tanks?

Surely that's just opening a whole new can of extra strength firewater.

There are a few girls out there who'll need to rethink heel height if drunk tanks become reality

Belfast Telegraph


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