The introduction of privately-run 'drunk tanks' should be considered to reduce soaring levels of alcohol-fuelled disorder, police chiefs have suggested.
Launching a campaign aimed at highlighting alcohol harm, Chief Constable Adrian Lee, the head of Northamptonshire Police, said the police service should not have to be responsible for the increasing number of revellers who require medical treatment after drinking to excess.
Instead Mr Lee, the national policing lead on alcohol harm, said intoxicated individuals should be escorted to a cell managed by a commercial company and charged for care they receive the morning after.
Mr Lee said: “I do not see why the police service or the health service should pick up the duty of care for someone who has chosen to go out and get so drunk that they cannot look after themselves.
“So why don't we take them to a drunk cell owned by a commercial company and get the commercial company to look after them during the night until they are sober?
“When that is over we will issue them with a fixed penalty and the company will be able to charge them for their care, which would be at quite significant cost and that might be a significant deterrent.”
Keeping someone in police a cell overnight can cost at least £385, more than a night at the Ritz hotel would cost. Under current law police can issue £80 fines for being drunk and disorderly.
His comments come amid a Government-wide review of all contracts held by Serco and G4S, two of the country's biggest private providers of public services.
The audit, triggered by revelations that both firms had overcharged the Government for criminal-tagging contracts, prompted calls for the Ministry of Justice to abandon plans to privatise large chunks of the probation and prison service.
But Mr Lee is not the first to suggest introducing drunk tanks in the UK, with Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Matthew Grove recently voicing the idea in an interview with trade journal Police Professional.
And it follows proposals for increased privatisation of the police service by way of sponsorship as suggested earlier this year by Dorset PCC Martyn Underhill.
Mr Lee argued that police are not health experts, and said it can be difficult for officers to work out where the best place to put a drunk is. "Is it a police station", he asked, "or do they need to be at a hospital?"
“Accident and emergency departments are under huge pressure nationally, particularly on a Friday and Saturday nights", he continued.
“Why should we have drunks clogging up the A&E, causing further problems potentially? Why not put them somewhere safe where you could have private medical staff on hand?”
Speaking during the briefing, Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said intoxicated individuals are “very high risk” and need to be checked every 15 to 30 minutes.
He said: “It is a huge cost on staff and when one of these people tragically dies, the service is quite rightly criticised.”
Mr Lee also said he was disappointed no licensing authorities had imposed late-night levies - an additional charge for late-opening alcohol suppliers designed to contribute towards policing the night-time economy.
He criticised the Government for failing to implement the minimum price for a unit of alcohol in England and Wales, after the Coalition shelved the plans in July amid fears the change would unfairly hit responsible drinkers.
A week-long campaign has been launched by police forces highlighting the difficulties faced by those dealing with drunkenness and alcohol-related incidents.
The Alcohol Harm initiative will see forces out on the streets with mobile custody suites and medical triage facilities to deal with the drunk and disorderly, alongside neighbourhood policing teams, special constables, police cadets and volunteers such as street pastors.
There will be age ID checks, drug swabbing and drink-drive operations, while licensing teams will be working with partners conducting test purchasing operations for shops and bars and visiting problem venues.
Police will address new students at freshers' weeks on staying safe and providing awareness training on vulnerability with security and bar staff.
Nearly 50 per cent of all violent crime is alcohol related, Acpo said, while offenders are thought to be under the influence of alcohol in nearly half of all incidents of domestic abuse and alcohol plays a part in 25 to 33 per cent of known child abuse cases.
Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne said he welcomed the campaign to raise awareness of the impact of alcohol-fuelled crime.
Mr Browne said: “Frontline police officers are all too aware of the drunken behaviour and alcohol-fuelled disorder that can effectively turn towns and cities into no-go areas for law-abiding people, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Additional reporting by Press Association