All But One

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:

The suicidal
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.


8 responses to “All But One”

  1. The other Frankie says :

    You’ve hit the nail on the head for me with this blog. On the one hand I read that we over use S136, on the other hand I read that we are criminalising too many people with MH issues. This is why….
    person in public place, threatening suicide. We are called and attend. Person tells us they will kill themselves. We use S136 as we feel they are in need of ‘immediate care and control’. We are then told this is wrong because they are just drunk and not suffering MH crisis. Ok….but what else are we supposed to do? Leave them to it, see if they meant it??? So there we are, over using S136. Maybe we should lock up for D and D? Then we are criminalising the sick.

    The other scenario, we are called to a person’s home. They are inside with a knife threatening to harm themselves. No threats made to officers or anyone else. We call the crisis team who tell us they know the person, they are not suffering a MH illness so we should arrest them for criminal offences and refuse to attend. So this becomes our only option, other than doing nothing. Person comes in for Breach of Peace.

    Kevin questions in his article why we arrest so many persons with MH issues as if it is us just being mean and deciding to lock them up. It is because we are usually left with two options – custody or nothing. Nothing doesn’t help anybody.

    All those who criticise should come out with my team and see the situations we go to and the awful decisions we have to make because we are the only people who can’t say no and are stuck firmly between a rock and a hard place.

    • kat says :

      I am writing my dissertation on these exact issue and how it impacts sergeants in police custody. can you email me to take this conversation further, please?

  2. AdemanDeloya says :

    It seems to be a classic case of valuing our own principles and how policy would work in some hypothetical perfect world over practicality and how things actually happen. “We shouldn’t have 136 powers” seems to be an intentionally shocking and debate-inspiring other way of saying “We shouldn’t be dealing with these situations at all”, which is all very well, but that’s not the world we live in. We do deal with these situations, every day, because no one else will, and if we don’t have the powers, we’ll do what police officers have done since the very beginning: we’ll fudge it.

    It’s a bit of a catch-22 – police will be dealing with these incidents for as long as it’s not in anyone’s interest to invest in a better way of doing it, and it won’t be in anyone’s interest to invest in a better way of doing it for as long as the police are just getting on and dealing with it.

  3. Judy says :

    Surely we don’t want to five any other agency the right to detain people? And who other than the police are going to detain people who are on high buildings/ harming themselves etc etc?

  4. katriona says :

    I’m so confused by all of this. My husband had a mental illness clinically diagnosed with combat related ptsd and is on a number medications to help treat this. He had a relapse and began drinking, I called his mental health team and informed them he wasn’t doing well and they told me to call the police to have him sectioned and taken to them. I did this, I was assured he would be taken to the mental health team and have the officers all of his medication. They told me they would contact me once he was admitted to hospital but wanted him to sober up before taking him there. I get a call from my husband some five hours later to say the police have released him and I went to collect him, when I got there my husband was unconscious in the station car park he had been given back his medication and a bottle of whiskey that he had taken to the station. He subsequently overdosed on both. I alerted the station and asked for help and they called an ambulance, my husband ended up in intensive care, he had stopped breathing if I hadn’t gone to collect him he would have died. I since called the station to ask why they didn’t take him to the mental health team as agreed and they said they arrested him for breach of peace, they hadn’t even alerted the mental health team that they had him. My question is why would they deem him fit enough to go home when I had informed them of his self harming and suicidal tenancies and why release him with all his medication (antidepressants, anti anxiety pills etc) and a bottle of whiskey knowing he was a danger to himself?

    • nathanconstable says :

      This sounds very serious. It sounds as though the mental health service have given you lousy advice and the police have been forced to “do something.”
      However, the fact that your information about your husband’s condition appears to have been ignored and the circumstances of his release are very concerning. If he was that ill after his release then it should be classed as a “near miss.” You should make a formal complaint to the force concerned or direct to the IPCC straight away.

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