Call The Police There’s A Madman Around

I was walking through a supermarket earlier today and music was playing over loudspeakers.

I found myself whisked back to the 80’s as I was listening to the refrains of The Pet Shop Boys and their track “West End Girls.”

In the first verse are the following lyrics:

“You think you’re mad, too unstable
Kicking in chairs and knocking down tables
In a restaurant in a West End town
Call the police, there’s a madman around”

Now I haven’t heard this track for a good number of years and it was telling that as I heard that last line my mind immediately got taken to work and all the calls we get about people having a mental health crisis.

“Call the police there’s a madman around.”

It’s a damning indictment of society really that it is the police who are so frequently called to deal with these issues.

If the call comes from a member of the public and relates to someone having a mental health crisis in public then, of course, I would expect that person to call the police and for the police to attend.

Having got home and looked at Twitter I saw something on my timeline which not only struck me as serendipitous but far far too familiar.

The tweet came from @Mrajbridge who works in the field of mental health. It said this:

“You just advised the carer of a #mentalhealth patient who has declined to take their anti hypertensive medication to call the #Police. WHY?!”

There then followed a series of replies which unanimously questioned whoever it was who had made this decision.

Some people seemed surprised.

This type of call is all too common. I can think of many occasions where a concerned relative has called us to say that someone they love is in crisis and needs help urgently.

“Why are you calling the police?” We ask.
“Because Social Services told us to” they reply.

Every single day, almost without fail, my station will receive a call about someone who is threatening suicide and could we go and check on them.
These calls frequently come from care providers.

Not to mention the reports of people who are being reported missing by the same care providers because they haven’t seen or heard from someone in a while. Invariably they are concerned because they are “suicidal.”

A few months ago we were asked to conduct a welfare check on a lady who is well known to police and mental health teams. She is a recluse and doesn’t answer the door.

She had failed to answer the door to a team who had gone round to see her. So they left and called us. It was late on a Friday afternoon – again not unusual.

I have dealt with this lady before so I looked up her recent history. It turned out that we had been called in identical circumstances a week previously and the week before that.

On both occasions we had attended and remained until we gained a response from the lady inside. Usually it was telling us to leave her alone. She never came to the the door once. She just shouted through it. Eventually.

What struck me was that the following pattern had emerged:

Social work team attend.
No reply.
Call Police.
Police attend.
Get reply.
Confirm she is alive to Social Services.

Social work team attend a week later.
No reply.
Call police.
Police attend.
Get reply.
Confirm she is alive to Social Services.

We were just about to enter into this cycle for the third time but it so happened that I was on duty and intervened.

I called the carer back and the conversation went something like this:

“Why are we being asked to go?”
“Because we can’t get her to reply”
“That has happened twice previously in the last 14 days. This is the third time. Is there anything different with the circumstances on those occasions and today?”
“No sudden escalation of any kind or additional concern?”
“Well no”
“So why are we being asked to go?”
“Because we are concerned about her.”
“But this has happened twice already what have you done since the last visit?”
“So the overall plan is to just keep going round there, knowing she won’t answer the door and then leaving and calling us?”
“Well – no…”
“Well – that’s what the plan looks like to me. What would you have done if she had answered the door?”
“Tried to assess her.”
“And obtaining a warrant isn’t an option?”
“Not at this time on a Friday.”
“So if your team went round there this morning – why are you calling the police at ‘this time on a Friday’ ”

And on it went.

Suffice to say I refused to send officers. This sent the social worker into some degree of panic and they tried to suggest that it would be on my head if she was harmed.

I pointed out that it most certainly wouldn’t be “on my head” as they had known about the problem for three weeks and if they were THAT concerned they could have intervened at any point between then and now.

I politely suggested that they were trying to pass responsibility onto the police and that I was not accepting that responsibility.

We have had other discussions where someone has been in evident crisis in their homes. They have rung their mental health worker and perhaps made bizarre or generally threatening comments along the lines of “I am going to kill someone.”

At this point we usually get called BY the mental health teams. They will ask us to go around and deal with it.
“Deal with what?”
“Well – arrest them for making threats.”

Oh really? There is no such offence by the way – not in these circumstances anyway.

No – the correct thing to do is:

1. For the MH worker to recognise that it’s a crisis
2. Obtain a warrant under Section 135 Mental Health Act
3. Attend the scene (with police if necessary) and assess whether the person requires Sectioning.

When I say it’s the “correct” way – it is, in fact, the only proper and legal way of dealing with a situation like that.

Instead – they call the police who have no powers to deal with it but now have a responsibility to do something with it.

Using “breach of the peace” at Common Law or arresting for “threats” are either powers which are inappropriate or do not actually exist. It is an utter abuse of legislation.

We are back to the situation where the individual in crisis needs a CLINICAL intervention – NOT a CRIMINAL one.

It appears to have become common place to simply ring the police and ask them to deal. Other agencies are actually surprised when we say “no.”
It has become a cultural norm.

Social services are referring people to the police and / or they are ringing the police directly with a range of things which really are not police matters at all.

All too frequently officers are just attending out of habit. Only those of us who have spent some time researching our powers in this area are alert to it and able to intervene.

The strategic solution to this problem is for a fundamental overhaul of Mental Health provision and an ability for them to be able to respond rapidly to an immediate crisis.

I have talked before about what I would do in this area. Look to create a specialist multi-agency team working 24 hours a day and with the capability and capacity to respond immediately.

At the moment you have a team working 24 hours a day with capability and capacity but they lack the training, expertise and powers to be effective. They are over-used and misused. In the vast majority of cases they shouldn’t be being called at all.

They are called “the Police” and you have to ask why they are being so routinely asked to deal with what is and always will be a medical emergency.


7 responses to “Call The Police There’s A Madman Around”

  1. Adrian Cox says :

    Being suicidal or making threats such as the one you describe is IMO not a medical matter either – it is more of a ‘health and safety’ matter and one ‘gone mad’ as most sane people would say (but do nothing about!).
    Keep on blogging!

  2. bc (@444blackcat) says :

    Trouble is while you’re right there should be a multi disciplinary 24/7 team but what you have is an EDT a CRT police , ambulance service and A+E all with different agendas, bosses, targets and quite often geographical areas, how do we make it happen.It’s not often i think national government should get involved but somebody needs to. It took our area 3 years to negotiate a conveyance protocol for detained patients and that was just us the police and ambulance service.
    To be honest think we need this to be linked to funding in some way rather than the pointless KPIs we have now to get some substantial change in the way services operate to stop organisations ducking their responsibilities

  3. Geraldine Evans (@gerrieevans) says :

    It realy is a case of: ‘The buck stops here’, isn’t it?

  4. Chris H says :

    I agree with your response to the recurring incident and think the way forward is something that has been destructive in house so far but may be a wake up call to all those departments who wrongfully expect the Police to deal with their short comings and therefore their mess. Cross charging other services for our assistance will make them sit up and take notice more than any complaining we do. When I joined the job in the late 70’s we had a huge problem with mental illness in Hackney Borough, patients were always escaping from the Hospital caring for them, we were forever being sent to find and return them only to be called back again and again.
    If as you say they have failed to do their job properly i.e get a warrant during the week etc when they are working and we have to deal with an incident like you describe we should bill them for the officers time etc. It didn’t take the Football clubs long to realise it was cheaper to pay for their own stewards and security when the Police started charging them properly for it. Now there are many less police involved in managing the games than there used to be. If we charged the Health Service for our services they may pull their fingers out a bit more. The same with the Ambulance Service too. I’m not advocating not responding at all but cross charging them for stuff that is not a genuine emergency. Money talks, in fact money shouts (copyright that!) and it sets alarms in the bean counters heads and that in turn makes policy. I may be way off here but I don’t think so myself. It’ll make them focus.

    Loving your work as usual.

  5. Chris says :

    In my 31 years I have revisited this situation so many times. Our colleagues in the Mental Health/CPO/Social Services teams are either a) Too inundated with case work to do the jobs properly (almost certainly) b) Going through the motions, because they can then abrogate responsibility to the Emergence Duty colleagues via the Police (again often the case on a Friday) c)Undertrained and resourced for the work they are sent out to do (again yes) or sadly d) Going through the motions because it is a job and they don’t care that much anyway (I do so hope this is not very many cases).

  6. Swanseajock says :

    Other agencies are actually surprised when we say “no……..and therein lies the problem as highlighted in your piece. The police never say no. On my last working day, 18th Jan, call from Ambulance Service requesting police support for crew going to an address. Probably a years old marker on their system, but instead of control room saying “You attend, assess, and if there is a threat withdraw and we will send someone to assist” they just automatically send a unit. Too many concerns about comebacks, too much back covering and not enough support for those that do say no from SMT. I am glad to be out of it

  7. James says :

    I know this is an older post but I would like to reply anyway.

    My family and I were on the receiving end of someone with some kind of obsession who just would not leave us alone one night. We have not training ourselves in how to deal with mentally unstable or ill people, there is also no common knowledge as to what to do when you fear that someone may become violent.

    Our decision eventually after a few hours of on and off harrassment was to call the Police. We were glad we did, they came and handled the situation very well despite the obvious mental instability of the person bothering us. They told us not to try to deal with the person ourselves but to call them again if there was more trouble.

    It was never suggested that we call Social Services and I suppose because the behaviour was likely to cause a breach of the peace as the person was shouting outside our home, then to us, it seemed right that we involved the Police.

    We are very grateful for the help and advice we received but how sad that so many people are living in the community who really would be better placed living somewhere where there was a specially trained person you could go to if you were having problems with knowing how to deal with them yourselves.

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