Earlier this week, Kevin Huish, the Police Federation lead on Mental Health posted an article in Police Magazine.
This was a precursor to a forthcoming seminar on custody issues and contained the following quote:
Police officers should not be able to detain someone under section 136 of the Mental Health Act as it can lead to inappropriate treatment and excessive time in custody according to the Police Federation
Many, including myself, took this as an outright statement of policy and were stunned by it.
To make sure that my barometer hadn’t broken whilst on holiday I had a brief off line conversation with @mentalhealthcop who appeared to be as equally perplexed as I was.
We have suggested many things over time to improve the way in which people were dealt with when mental health issues were involved but not once had we ever considered REMOVING police powers of detention.
Michael went to the trouble of ringing the Fed direct whilst I yelled from the sidelines.
Today, Kevin Huish has updated his article with the following response.
Kevin says that he started this debate in May and it didn’t really gain traction until this week. He then goes on to list all of the other recommendations he has made to government.
I have to say that I agree with and support all of them – all but one.
I won’t try and put words in Kevin’s mouth but I believe that he is actually saying that mental health crises are a medical problem and should, therefore, be dealt with my agencies other than the police. On this I agree also.
However, lets face it, the police are ALWAYS going to be called to incidents where mental health is a factor and by removing their powers of detention under Section 136 you are taking away the ONE AND ONLY thing they can do about it.
Kevin rightly points out that for too long police have used other means of detention such as Breach of the Peace. This is also a valid point and it is a practice which is wrong on many levels. Surely if you take away the 136 powers it will lead to MORE arrests for BoP as there is no alternative.
Kevin’s solution relies on the existence of fully functioning 24/7 mental health response teams who would either go to an incident instead of the police or who would quickly turn up and take over.
In theory this is an excellent idea but how do you differentiate the types of calls?
There are already two specific brackets of people in crisis who fall neatly between the gaps:
Those who are drunk / drugged and exhibiting evidence of mental health crisis.
Currently, and generally, the Crisis Teams won’t touch either of them.
Being suicidal is not necessarily a sign on mental health problems and being drunk appears to be an outright bar to admission to MH hospital – never mind assessment.
Unless these two areas are addressed and made the responsibility of a “crisis team” then the Crisis Team won’t deal with them.
At the moment, that “crisis team” is the police.
Whether we like it or not, whether it’s right or not, police will ALWAYS be called to instances of mental health crisis in public or private. It will depend upon how the situation is manifesting itself but people’s first reaction is to call the police.
There are times when it is entirely right that the police go and deal. There are times when police attend and then end up making things up as they go along I order to resolve a situation where there are no powers and no other agencies willing to deal with it.
This needs addressing – but removing the powers of police to detain under Section 136 would be a mistake.
Kevin refers to senior mental health practitioners criticising the police for “overuse” of 136.
I can only assume that they are referring to occasions where suicidal or drunk people have been brought in because it seemed the right and safest thing to do.
Criticism of the police use of the power highlights the lack of training but also the absence of an effective way of managing crisis in any other way.
It also leads to questions about how people are managed in the community before things get to crisis point.
Kevin mentions these points as well.
We know things are not working well. We know that it’s a topic of hot debate.
We know there is much work to do.
However, for me, the solution is more about the HANDOVER to medical agencies than it is about police use of detention.
It is about this that we should be speaking with a unified voice and making representations to the powers that be.
The need for police officers to have powers to detain under 136 are real and will always exist. In fact, Kevin even says he has raised the point that they need to be extended to cover private premises – something I also agree with.
Police have a role in dealing with mental health – it is core business.
To remove our powers would be rather like standing and watching a building burn down because frankly – it’s the fire services problem.
That is not a stance I can support and it’s a shame it has been raised.
I can support every other suggestion Kevin has made – all but one.