Given that I have spent much of the last two years shouting very loudly about the issues of policing and mental health today was something of a watershed.
At times over this last two years it has felt like I have been shouting into cotton wool, talking to myself, disappearing up my own…
I have been very very lucky to have had the support and friendship of the Twitter community and, using this medium and this blog, I have talked, A LOT, about the difficulties faced by front line officers and the frustrations with the system and the law.
During this time an acquaintance with @mentalhealthcop has become a friendship. I have been very fortunate to work with Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis who has listened to me and taken many of my arguments forward to the Powers That Be.
At the same time – those of you who follow me on Twitter or read this blog have helped keep me sane and have listened, patiently, to my opinions and views.
Why am I saying all this? Well – today I was very honoured to attend an event hosted by the College of Policing. The subject was mental health and vulnerable people.
You can imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, DCC Rob Beckley called me to invite me.
On the way to London I caught up with the news and it was interesting that today the Guardian broke this story. Here was a reporter who went out to report on stop search and couldn’t believe how much time the police spent dealing with MH issues.
Serendipity? I think so.
Initially I was nervous about attending today given that the event was for Deputy Chief Constables but, fortunately, Twitter came into its own and I found myself amongst friends in the form of ACC’s Lee Freeman (Lincs) Phil Kay (Leicestershire) and DCC Giles York from Sussex.
I am grateful to all of them and ACC Olivia Pinkney for making me feel so welcome today.
My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the debate – that it would all be above my head. It wasn’t. Although the conversation and speeches were all very strategic I was pleased that my own research over the last few years meant I knew exactly what was being discussed.
The first speaker was Lord Victor Adebowale. I was impressed with his report and I was even more impressed to finally hear from him in person. I cannot think of ANYONE I would rather have conducted a review into how police deal with MH.
Here is a man who went in with one opinion – what has MH got to do with the police? – and who came out with another – this is a core police function.
Lord Adebowale talked about how the commission was formed and it’s work. I was impressed with the fearlessness with which they approached this work. Prior to agreeing to undertake it Lord Adebowale spoke with the Met Commissioner and said he would effectively pull no punches and expected the Commissioner to respond in full.
To his credit Sir Bernard agreed to this and when Lord Adebowale handed him a report which said “it’s all broken mate” I can imagine the looks of horror at Scotland Yard as the scale of the problem was laid bare.
Fortunately – the Met has Commander Christine Jones who then spoke about what the Met have been doing with the report since it was written. I have never heard a senior police officer talk with as much conviction and knowledge on the subject. Impressed? Oh yes.
If I can’t think of anyone better to have written the report condemning the police then, in Commander Jones, I cannot think of a better senior police officer to do something about it.
Commander Jones spoke eloquently and passionately on the subject and – though I don’t claim any credit for this whatsoever – effectively spoke about topics which covered every blog I have ever written. One of the main issues was that of restraint – something I feared was being lost in the glitter of Street Triage.
On that subject it was interesting to note that Lord Adebowale doesn’t think Street Triage is the solution to the problem either. It has a place – but it’s not the silver bullet.
Commander Jones has made some very sensible and courageous decisions regarding how her Borough will respond to MH issues. I didn’t fall out with any of them. Rather – I was sat making silent celebratory noises to myself and looking for someone to bump fists with.
We then heard from Kate Davies who has, by her own admission, the longest and most complicated title in the history of the NHS – lets just say it has to do with central commissioning.
At this point I did get lost but I don’t think I was on my own. As Kate tried to explain the intricacies of how commissioning is set up I had flash backs to the Periodic Table in Chemistry lessons. I have to admit to being a bit confused by the end of this – not because it wasn’t explained well – more WHY does it have to be this complicated. Bottom line of this session was that MH within the criminal justice system is gaining in profile and it’s importance is being recognised.
Then we heard from Sally Richards who is deputy of crime and criminal justice in the Home Office.
It was during this that my jaw hit the floor.
The Home Office have been looking at this – very hard.
They have reached a number of conclusions:
1. That a mental health crisis is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY
2. That they want to see an end to Exclusion Criteria which are preventing people accessing NHS help because they are “too drunk” or “too violent”
I think both myself and Dr Jenny Holmes were absolutely stunned by this. Haven’t we read about this somewhere before??
This is progress!
Sally then spoke about the fact that there will be a review of Sec 136 legislation later this year. Given the strategic level of conversation so far it was here that I thought a tactical grenade was necessary and, when invited to speak, I pointed out the anomaly with regards public / private with 136 and how it needs to be addressed.
I believe it was noted.
Then we heard from the Head of Suicide Intervention and Mental Health for British Transport Police. This talk shower why it is immensely valuable to have a Head of Suicide Intervention and Mental Health.
Here is a force with a unique problem. Suicides on its network and people using it’s network to go to places to commit suicide.
The data crunching that has gone on at BTP is astonishing. The analysis even more so. It was demonstrated today that they have complete grip of the issue and massive understanding. This has enabled them to devise ways of preventing and intervening in suicides or attempt suicides on their network.
You have to understand a problem before you can deal with a problem. This was a masterclass.
The discussions that went on around, during and after the presentations were, to my ears, hugely reassuring.
As a front line practitioner I want to know that my Commanders see what I see, understand what I see and have a plan in place to deal with it.
It is not unusual in policing for things to be introduced by the top and filter down. On MH I think the reverse is true. All the noise has come from the ground and I am now convinced that it is trickling UP.
This is good news.
The main themes arising from today were:
Broad recognition – including from the Home Office – that MH is primarily a health problem.
Acceptance that the police will always have a role within that.
That that role needs to be defined and stuck too.
There are some things that we have been doing that we simply shouldn’t be doing any more.
That restraint needs looking at.
That Places of Safety need looking at.
That training needs looking at.
That we need to consider how we are dealing with vulnerable victims.
That we need to look at early interventions both in MH and the criminal justice systems.
That MH crosses just about every portfolio of police work.
This latter issue can make it difficult to identify a strategic lead for this. I guess it would naturally sit with a DCC. However, DCC’s are busy people who perhaps cannot get too bogged down in the detail.
The need for each force to have a Mental Health Champion is clear. Even the Home Office recognise this.
In these austere times the question must be asked whether forces can afford to dedicate one officer to this role. To borrow a line from Irene Curtis – I ask whether forces can afford not to.
MH generates at least a 5th of police work. It affects victims, offenders and officers and staff. It affects all crime types including some of the most serious. The consequences of getting it wrong are dire – people die. It requires information exchange and identifying risk. It is a public safety issue.
I also firmly believe that it doesn’t need to be a DCC. An officer of that rank is required for strategic oversight and “clout” – what forces need is someone who is passionate and interested.
If this sounds like I am writing an application for a job which doesn’t exist – you know what? I don’t care.
I am hugely buoyed up by what I have heard today. The time is right and I believe that the political will is right. I also sense that, within ACPO, there is a desire to get this moving and get it sorted.
The challenge for those in the room today is to act quickly, to identify who is leading on what and to ensure consistency across the country.
We don’t need 43 ways of doing this. We need one.
We don’t need 43 different policies on taser use and restraint training. We need one.
We don’t need 150 different training packages. We need one.
And as for force mental health champions – well – we need 43 of those but I hope that today is the start of something.
I could not be happier with what I heard today. I felt that others felt the same.
It now falls to all of us – even those of lowly rank – to take this forward and make it so.
I would like to thank the College of Policing for inviting me today. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thank you for making me so welcome