Risk assessment in police custody

Research Institution / Organisation

Loughborough University

Principal Researcher

Melanie-Jane Stoneman

Level of Research


Project Start Date

October 2016

Research Context

Risk assessment of whether a person being detained is likely to harm themselves or others is an essential part of the police custody process. Guidance on the risk assessment process and risk management levels (observations) is provided by the College of Policing. However, this guidance is not mandatory and terminology can be vague. HMIC Inspection reports and a risk assessment mapping exercise show that in fact risk assessment processes vary widely across police forces in England and Wales. There is also a gap in the guidance in providing a mechanism to link the risk assessment to the appropriate risk management level. Currently this decision is dependent on the Custody Officer and their judgement of the situation.

The aim of this research is to identify how Custody Officers assess risk of harm and determine which risk management level to apply. The results and knowledge from this research can then be applied to the risk assessment process with the aim of making it more efficient - asking only the most relevant questions, and more effective – leading to the most appropriate observation levels set through the use of techniques such as heuristics.

Research Methodology

​The research will be conducted using a mixed methods approach: Quantitative analysis will be conducted on custody record data. In particular logistic regression analysis will be used to identify the most significant variables in classifying detainees more at risk of harm or self-harm. In addition qualitative methods will be used to examine how, in practice, risk management levels (observations) are set. This will include conducting semi-structured interviews with custody officers as well as non-participant observations in custody suites at various times of the day and week.

Interim reports and publications

​​​​​Melanie-Jane Stoneman et al; " Variation in detainee risk assessment within police custody across England and Wales"; Policing and Society 29:8, 951-967

Melanie-Jane Stoneman et al; "Enhanced understanding of risk assessment in police custody in England and Wales using statistical modelling"; Safety Science, volume 117, August 2019, pages 49-57

Melanie-Jane Stoneman et al; "Investigating the decision-making approach to risk assessment in police custody"; Presentation at ESREL conference 2019

Date due for completion

June 2021
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